with the occasional rant about tin openers...

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Post Brewlab Beer

It's been a month since I set off for windswept Sunderland to learn how to make my beer a little bit better. A whole month! Seems like only yesterday. Having said that, it's lucky they sent us home with the notes, as there was too much information for 20 drinkers to completely absorb.

If you have a wort chiller, the next bit doesn't apply!

The main issue for me is DMS (Dimethylsulphide), which is a taste/aroma compound which makes the beer taste and smell of cabbage, or overcooked sweetcorn. It can be present in small amounts and affect people's drinking pleasure differently. For me, though, not nice. So, after brewlab, have I got rid of it?

Well, in short, so far, yes! And thank God too, because it was ruining my beer. It was all about the cooling. The precursor to DMS compounds can be found in malted barley, and aggravated into existence during mashing, but then evaporated during a long rolling boil, to below noticeable amounts. Which is great. No problems then.

The DMS compounds continue to form, however, as the wort cools down, and longer cooling periods, as used by myself with no way of chilling the wort, can bring the levels of DMS back up to really  noticeable levels! So, although I don't have a cooling coil yet, it's on the list. I did, though, manage to maneuver the hot copper into a sink with cold water, which made short work of bringing the temperature down to about 60oc. Now we'll have to see after fermentation is complete if that was enough!

The recipe was for my usual Golden ale, which means that in spite of all the hops, there's no room to hide any unruly smells.

No pictures with this one, as I couldn't take a picture of the smell. Maybe in another couple of years.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Brewlab Education

And it's back to college for a few days!

I've been booked on the course since June, but I never thought it'd come around. But now I'm here, I can't believe I'm already halfway through! I've just finished the second day of the 3 day plus one Startup Brewery course at Brewlab Ltd, and it's basically sorted out all of my problems, from mash efficiency to those funny off-aromas, without even bothering to try one of my beers!

Firstly, the course took twenty of us (some home brewers, some not), through the brewing process from start to finish, and funny enough, they started with the brewing liquor, or water-what-you-make-beer-with, starting with the treatments in order to keep the beer in character and style with the original, and also in order to increase the mash efficiency, by adjusting the pH of the liquor. So that's the first thing I'll need, some litmus paper.

Then Arthur took us through the recipe compilation, using the ol scale, which measure's the malts potential extract, and will more than likely lead to much more accurate predictions of O.G., or the amount of fermentable sugar I can expect in my wort (pronounced wert, apparently, even in a thick Geordie accent). Out with Imperial, in with Metric. Sigh.

Arthur also casually pointed out that my DMS problem (smells like teen bedroom) comes from not chilling the wort quickly enough (or at all, in my case, as I usually let it cool down over a period of hours). Unpicking my brewing experience with one casual casual question: how do you cool down your wort?

The rest, all equally important, but numerous, will all be addressed soon. Some will be addressed at relatively little expense, some will likely cost more. Dr Thomas advocated getting a little more familiar, if not downright voyerstic, with yeast. Buy a microscope. I think Santa will be busy picking through 400x magnification Haemotologists microscopes in the Argos catalogue this month!

So, two more days to go, so much to learn, and so little time. You can see some gaps in your knowledge fill up, while watching others burst open, as you realise how much there is yet to learn! Early to bed tonight then... well, I'll just 'sample' this one more pint!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Harvest Ale #1

Fresh hopped Harvest Pale ale:

5oz, on the button.
It feels like ages ago that I got excited about the first hop shoots nuzzling at the surface of the soil. Now they’re drawing the attention of the council’s planning department! So, after nearly 5 months, I can finally reap the rewards of months of doing nothing; it’s basically looked after itself. Well, ok, I did rig up a zig-zag of Poundland plant wire, but that’s about it. The regular watering thing that plants seem to like wasn’t labour intensive this year, thank you Gulf Stream, and although I did manage to throw on some tomato feed once or twice, it was only because I was feeling guilty about having done, frankly, nothing. But now I’ve a brew day to plan. Some sort of pale ale should prove a hearty canvas for the piney Nugget hops I’ll be harvesting from the one bull-bine. Only one bine flowered, so I’ll probably only have quarter of a pound of wet hops at best, but lesson learned for next year: cut back all bull shoots, not just some. Success favours the brave.
They're all perfect.
The pale will be 2lbs maris otter, 1oz crystal & 1oz wheat, and ¼ oz Northdown (bitter) per 5 ounces of fresh hops. Thinking about it, it’s probably too much, as the equivalent is about 5oz aroma hops in a 5-gallon brew (fresh hops weigh between 4 and 6 times more wet than when dried). Though after consulting the forums where it seems that more is more, more might be enough. Besides, it will be easily spread over the last twenty minutes of the boil.

So on Harvest Ale eve, about three weeks later than the microbrewers who were at the Kent harvests, and nearly a week later than some Dublin homebrewers (I’m quite far north, have I said?), I finally set the alarm clock for an interesting brew day. I haven’t dreamt about homebrew yet, but if it’s going to happen, it’ll be tonight.

Harvest Day: 18-09-2012

Hot, hot, hop.

Woke up to a wet and windy day, and thanks to some sort of bizarre cold, absolutely no sense of smell - hardly conducive to a morning of brewing with fresh hops!
The first thing to do was to measure up the hops, so I knew how much of what to make. As it turned out, my estimate was spot on: 5 ounces of fresh hops. So I set half a gallon of water to heat up, and mashed in the malts. I left it, checking occasionally that it was at the upper end of the 60s (temperature, that is). Then, sparge, boil, and in with ¼ ounce of Northdown hops to bitter the pale ale. Once the wort had been boiling for 40 minutes I begun to add small handfuls of fresh hops and became frustrated at how little I could smell! Was it the lack of hop oils? Was it the small quantity of hops being added? Or was it, hopefully, the absence of my olfactory senses for the day?
The whole with went into a glass demijohn at 1045, which wasn’t far off estimate, and then in with some yeast from a couple of weeks ago. It’s not fermenting yet, but with any luck by this evening there should be a krauseny mess all over the living room floor.
There’s very little I can do now, for a couple of weeks, except the usual bottle palaver. However, in a couple of weeks there will be an honest appraisal of the beer, but in the meantime, there’s bound to be an update on the next beers up, namely:

#4, a hoppy golden ale, with a fantastic citrus aroma,
Chocolate and Passionfruit Porter, which may or may not be a stroke of genius,
WHT Tayleur’s dried Rowanberry brown ale, and finally,
CIDER! If I can get hold of some apples!

And maybe, by next September, I’ll have both more hops and a hopback to really force in the aroma, sense of smell or not!

Monday, September 10, 2012

Grow Your Own Hops

So much better than grapes, and loads easier to grow!
I did try to grow and malt my own barley, last year. This year I'm letting that go to the professionals. However, I am sucessfully growing my own hops. And to help anyone else trying to do the same, or wishing to, read this:

Within this new, small site you'll find much of the information needed to buy, grow, harvest dry and brew. It's a great aside to the homebrew hobby (sorry, not hobby, um... art), and when I harvest later this week I'm sure it'll prove to be a worthwhile one too.

I hope the information proves useful or inspiring: and if I can grow hops way up where I'm living, then anybody can anywhere.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Wet hopping . . .

So, a malt order has been placed and the hops are so nearly ready to harvest. I've been following Paul Corbett from Charles Faram hop merchants on Twitter and they've had their first harvest down in south-east England somewhere, so I figure I can leave it a week or two yet, up here in a north-westerly part of Ireland, with emphasis on north.
The early stages of hop cone formation. We're a bit on from there.

The hops I'll be using will be Goldings for bitterness (bought), and the home-grown Nugget cones for my taste and aroma additions. The internet thinks I'll need to add 4 or five times more hops by weight than if I were using dry hops, so the batch size will largely depend on the crop, which while better than last year, is not a prizewinner!

So check back soon for a post about extra-hopping a kit beer (John Bull IPA), and then some time after that for the wet-hop experiment, which will go something like this:

7lbs pale, 1/2lb crystal, some goldings to the tune of 30-odd IBU, then nugget additions at 15, 10, 5 and 0 mins of the boil. I'll probably bottle the batch as I want to show it off (nobody ever visits the house for barrelled beer) so I won't be dryhopping. I'll ferment with whatever's spare in the fridge, really.

Hope that's the appetite whetted. And thanks be to the brew gods that 70% of the Irish grain harvest has been saved! Hurrah! - courtesy of Aertel at 2am.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Another Irish Red Ale

I've just used up my last 5lbs of pale malt, so that's the last brew-day for a while. So, what do you brew when you know you've only one brew left? Could it be an Oat Stout, seeing as how there's some Oat Malt left over from the beer I'll be posting about soon? Or maybe a small batch of IPA, seeing as how there's lots of Goldings left over from that beer I just hinted at? No, we'll go with another Irish Red Ale.

The last post loosely describes making my last Irish Red, which can't be that long ago as I've still two-dozen bottles left, so why brew another? Well, apart from the fact that I like it, the last one actually tastes more like a British Mild Ale, which isn't what I wanted. I want RED, with all the caramel and roast flavours, but I chickened out of adding in enough roasted barley into the brew, and ended up with a very simple ale.

Next up for a blog post is the last brew I did, which is a very old recipe for a Yorkshire Oat Ale. How will it turn out? Who knows. I'm worried it'll end up as expensive drain-cleaner, but you never know.

That's it for now. Nothing exciting happened during the making of the red ale, unless you count pouring the wort into the fermenter, realising that you forgot to add Irish Moss into the brew kettle, and pouring it all back in again for another 15 minute boil! I took it as a sign from the Brew Gods, and added another half ounce of hops for their pleasure.

Friday, July 6, 2012

A brew-day in pictures:

The following is a Daily Mirror-esque photo-casebook.

The recipe for Smithish (Irish Red Ale)
I'm going to make two identical Irish Red Ales, then ferment with two different yeasts: Mauribrew Ale Yeast and Nottingham Ale Yeast . This way I’ll have lots of beer and I’ll be able to make more informed decisions regarding yeast the next time I want to brew something. Every day’s a school day.

I’m using the same recipe as Smithish, adjusted to all-grain, as the original used dried malt extract. Also, I don’t like faff, so whatever the original proportions was, they’re now rounded up to the nearest pound (lb). Also, the hops are different, and there’re more of them.

Ubiquitous photo of hand
and task.

I’ve also taken this learning opportunity to take photographs of the brew-day. There are loads of pictures, though only a one is actually of brewing. Most blogs have lots of pictures, and, frankly, my hand pouring in hops is the same as your hand pouring in hops, so I’ve added pictures which give a little more of the ‘character’ of the brewing session, as opposed to step-by-steps. That’s why there’s a picture of my fridge door, my recipe book (which will fetch a fortune on eBay one day) and some other bits and bobs. And seeing as I brew beer when I have the house to myself, any action shots only happen when I’ve a hand free. That means putting the beer down.

So, the brew’s in the bucket. Having measured the starting gravity (and accounting for hydrometer error at high temperature) I’m disappointed with the result; it looks like my mash efficiency is between fifty-five and 60%. I buy the malt ready milled, the first area to look at with low efficiency, so maybe I’ll invest in something one day. I followed Charlie Papazian’s half gallon/lb or grain sparge too, which is much more than I’d normally use, and still poor extract. Well, never mind. 3.5 – 4 % ABV isn’t strong, but it’ll be a nice drink.

Heat seeking missiles, cats.

The final picture is of my latest golden ale, sunbathing. The books and beer reviews all talk about light-struck beer. What is it? Well, that’s explained in the book. What does it smell or taste like? That, too, is in the book. It smells like a skunk. Brilliant. I’ll just pop down to the local field and sniff a skunk. So, I bottled some very hoppy golden ale in a clear bottle and on the first sunny day I sat it in the sunniest spot (just look for a cat). So, after 30 minutes on the windowsill and an hour or so in the fridge, it’s ready to drink. Now I think I know what sunstruck is. It seems to be that lovely burnt, nutty flavour I originally associated with pale-malt-only beers. I was wondering how to recreate it in a recipe, as I actually quite like it. No accounting for taste, I suppose.

So, that’s why I don’t take pictures.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Hello... testing... is this thing on?

Right, I'm back, though only for a bit. I've run out of ingredients again, so.

I've been brewing at home under the assumption that, having done about 20 successful brews, the 21st, 2nd and third would all go swimmingly. I rushed through the last couple, all proud of myself, only to discover, upon opening a much-anticipated Irish Red Ale that I had some sort of yeast infection. It's not something you want to find you've got, but to find one in your beer is just awful.

When your uncle catches you smoking, and thinks that the best lesson would be to make you smoke a full packet, or worse, a cigar*, then the best lesson learnt in the homebrew situation is to pour away over 5 gallons of booze. It makes you very careful.

So, now I'm drinking either nettle ale (with a lager yeast, so I suppose it's nettle lager), some dodgy Irish Red Ale (the infection seemed to have 'cleared up', and after more than a month in the bottle the DMS cabbagy smell is much diminished), and in about 4 days a fantastic golden ale. How do I know it's fantastic if it's not ready for another four days? Well, I can never really wait. It's good.

Actually, I'm being quite calm and philosophical about the down-the-pan thing. After all, I didn't know what a bad batch of beer was. It's all about learning. I definitely didn't cry.

That's it for now, nettle ale recipe coming up soon.

* of course that never happened to me, but I heard tell of ones to whom it did. I was never caught.

Monday, April 9, 2012

The New Style- Irish Black Ale

Let me be the first to unveil a new beer style, the Irish Black Ale. No, it’s not a stout, and for some reason it’s not Irish Red Ale either. I used the same, small, amount of chocolate and roasted malt as the last red ale, but for some reason, it’s just come out black. It might clear up after fermentation…
Probably the Best Cold Break in the World
I think I qualify as a small brewery now. After St. Patrick’s day I brewed another golden ale, which has been kegged. Unfortunately the plastic barrel’s CO2 valve leaks the wrong way, so I’ve had to replace it with a nut and bolt. Now the beer’s nicely conditioned, but if I’ve put too much sugar in the keg, it’ll explode. Better drink it quick.
After the golden ale, I brewed up another; a 2 gallon batch of strong ale. The reason being, I wanted to see if you could recycle hops. I calculated that the amount of hops I’d have after the golden ale would make a second beer very bitter, so I made it very strong. I mean, if you assume that in a one-hour boil you use 30% of the alpha acids, that leaves 70% acids… well, it doesn’t seem to work like that. My green credentials remain intact, but my brewing credentials, less so. The old ale is basically stewed malt extract. No bitterness whatsoever.
Then a quick Irish red. No, Irish black, sorry. Most of the wort was boiled with some Northdown, while a very little extra was boiled with a lot of Magnum hops. This extra has been added to the strong ale mentioned above to put some bitterness back in. It’s still fermenting away, which is nice to see, in two demijohns. Hopefully the finished product will be more balanced.
How great to have manipulated my way through all these difficulties- the underbittered beer, the broken keg, brewing two beers in one afternoon- only to be thwarted by a distinct lack of yeast! I was so sure I had one more sachet left. Lots of bakers yeast, but no brewers yeast. Fortunately I did keep some back in a bottle. I intended using it for another beer, but needs must. Anyway, lessons learnt.
By the way, Nestea and Lucozade bottles make perfect starter bottles, as the opening is the same size as those handy rubber bungs. I wouldn’t need to know this if I’d kept track of how much yeast I’d used.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Irish Stout

Happy St. Guin Patrick's Day!

It’s St. Patrick’s Day again. I wouldn’t normally spend three weeks preparing for a party, but it’d be a poor show if I hadn’t made enough beer to satisfy at least four Irishfolk. I’m not pandering to a stereotype here, by the way, just going by the last two years. The Tiger Beer will remain a secret, hidden from drunken, lecherous eyes; Kindleweisse is practically undrinkable, thanks to it tasting of cloves and nothing else. But a Golden Ale* will be available to reward paradees (people who do the parade).

But, because it’s St. Patrick’s Day, it’s only right I should brew a stout... even if only to thin out the feckin’ Guinness. I’ve only made two gallons for reasons better, but not entirely, known to myself. It’s a sweet stout, with crystal and chocolate malt in place of flaked and roasted barley (no it’s not a porter). From the bottling leftovers, it’s very, very nice. But it only has 6 days to condition. Will it be long enough? Not satisfied that secondary fermentation is going to be sufficient (bottling gravity was 1015, OG was only 1042!) I put them in the bed with the electric blanket on. It didn’t work. I’m still tiling the fireplace**; so with no proper heat for a couple of days, it may be very sweet, very flat stout! Never mind. I’ve no doubt it’ll go down well after a mile long parade.

Having homebrew on St. Paddy’s day is a flimsy tradition for me, seeing how I forgot last year, but it’s nice to have a house full of people and homebrew at the same time. They’re usually mutually exclusive. I’ve made pretty labels, bottled them in glass, and there’s at least some sort of beer to please everyone, and some Carlsberg to disappoint. So with any luck I’ll have a captive audience to test out my recipes. I'm placing listening devices down the back of the sofa so I can hear what people really think. Let's face it, noone's going to tell me bad things when I'm giving away free beer!

Now then, on with the rest of the preparations to people-proof the house. Nail everything down, hide the ornaments, light candles and bake bread. Oh yeah, and finish that fireplace!

* The post below mentions the Golden Ale, and I think it also says something like “at least make a passable pale ale”. Well, it’s a very good Pale Ale, but not a particularly good example of a Golden. Back to the drawing board with that recipe, I think. I’m not short of recipes for Pales.

** Last year’s promise was to get the stove in by St. Parick’s Day. This year’s promise is to tile around it.

Monday, February 27, 2012

What to do with a spare 8 hours.

A Sunday evening alone, the perfect opportunity for things I’m not allowed to do when Ms Homebrew’s in: listen to jazz, and brew beer. Ms Homebrew doesn’t mind me watching the rugby, even when it’s on at the same time as an Eastenders omnibus, but jazz? She’s no time for it. “It’s messy sounding”. And homebrewing’s just plain messy. I’m wearing slippers now, while I brew. Once upon a time my homebrew outfit included waders.

I’ve been a bit busy with non-homebrew related stuff, so I’ll condense the last two brews into a single paragraph, seeing as nothing particularly exciting happened. 5 gallons of tiger beer made, from Dave Line’s recipe, to which I was largely faithful; and Kindleweisse, a whatever’s-left-in-the-cupboard wheat beer. The first has been lagered in the shed (in the plastic bucket, at about 9 degrees, so not really lagering, I know), the second, Kindleweisse, an American Wheat beer, has been soaking up the heat from the stove, occasionally exciting the cat. It did take a little while to start fermenting, but once I’d put it where the cat usually sits, it sprung to life. Cats do know the warmest spots.

I’m making a batch of Golden Ale. I’m not really sure what makes Golden Ale. Everything else I’ve brewed has either been pretty dyed in the wool as a style, or written about enough for me to reproduce it with some confidence. Even Kindleweisse, which was only made because apparently in some countries you can ferment a wheat beer with a top fermenting (ale) yeast, and was the result of a read through Daniel’s book.

Even on the Internet there’s not much about ‘Golden Ale’. As far as I understand it’s a relatively new term, coined in 1994, which is enough time for the Internet to have an opinion on it. Nevertheless, I did find the following: It’s a golden sort of colour, between 3 and five percent alcohol, little in the way of a malt profile, but plenty from the hops, which should produce a crisp, dry beer, with a feeling of bitterness, and a powerful hop aroma.

To that end, I’ve used 7lbs 8oz pale malt, 4oz each of wheat malt and barley flakes, 1.5oz Fuggles (hops) and 1/3 oz of Styrian Goldings (also hops) to give an IBU of about 30 (which may or may not be typical of the style). I’ve mashed low and long to remove any trace of flavour from the beer, but I’ll put it back with late additions of whatever Styrian Goldings I have left, and plenty of Cascade. I’ve also used some Burton water salt treatment to help with the hoppiness. I was toying with the idea of using acid malt, to lift up the pH, which I gather the Pilsner producing countries do to create a crisp flavour, but I chickened out of that in favour of something that would, if all else failed, make a passable pale ale. I also tried this: put in your copper hops before the wort comes to the boil and the wort won’t kick and spill over the place – it works.

Ah, and now I’ve distracted myself with writing, and I can’t remember if the boil started at ten to ten, or ten past! D’oh.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

New Year's Resolutions

This year I’m going to continue to observe my ‘No Carlsberg’ resolution from a few years back (it’s harder than it sounds), and to it I’ll add ‘Spend more time in the kitchen’. That means brewing!

So, did you get a homebrew kit for Christmas, and have found this blog after Googling some home brewed beer related words? Then isn’t Google clever, sending you here. The following is some advice to those new to the hobby, or as is often the case, those returning after years spent having a family.

Brewing your own beer from a tin, box or bag is really easy, and very rewarding.

Your basic kit is:
Your tin kit (plus 1kg / 2lbs of sugar)
A 5 gallon bucket, plus lid
A 5ft-ish tube to siphon your beer
Sterilising stuff
Anything else is needlessly fancy: hydrometer, thermometer and so on. People have been brewing without these for thousands of years.

If you’ve been given just a tin your kit won’t be as instant as all that, but as most homebrew starter kits come with everything you need, you can get cracking right away. If you do need anything from the above list, you’ll not go far wrong with your local farmers co-op. Start there. And while you’re in the co-op, get yourself some wood, put up some shelves, as you’ll soon need more space than you know. This ‘hobby’ is addictive.

Now I have no intention of reproducing the instructions given with your can, as I’ve yet to brew from a tin that had insufficient instructions within. However, I’ve some additional info here, which may help understand the instructions.

Firstly, don’t let the instructions scare you. Whilst I too can’t stress enough the importance of cleanliness in brewing, it’s not something you need to stress about. The instructions are likely to give you nightmares about making 5 gallons of malt vinegar. This simply isn’t going to happen. If the bucket is dirty, wash it up. A clean bucket should then be sterilised with any old household sterilising stuff (Milton, VWP, a weak bleach solution), and rinsed until there’s no trace of your cleaner or steriliser. Now it’s ready to use. There’s no need for lab coveralls and industrial steam cleaners. It’s homebrew.

Now go back to the instructions. The next thing it’s probably going to harp on about is how quickly your wort is likely to become infected. Your wort is the watery malt extract stuff you’ve now got 5 gallons of, which hasn’t yet been fermented. If you leave the bucket unattended for a day or two then yes, you might have a sour tasting, very weakly alcoholic, undrinkable beer, but if you pitch (chuck in) your yeast into the wort as directed, you’ll have no problems. Put the lid on, put it somewhere not too warm, not too cold, and leave it for 12 hours. After twelve hours, or a day, or whenever you’ve got time, open the lid a little and take a peek. There should be a lovely, fluffy cloud-like layer going on, with lots of brown bitter-tasting bits sticking to it, and the smell can be anything between a loaf in the oven to rotten eggs. This is normal. Normal. Replace the lid having not sneezed into the bucket or dipped in anything unsavoury, relax, and continue to follow the instructions.

Finally, exercise patience. So it says leave your beer in bottles for 3 weeks? Leave it 6 and you’ll be amazed at what you’ve created. Don’t forget to tell everyone about it now; you’ll never make it through 5 gallons on your own.