with the occasional rant about tin openers...

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Homebrewed is Best

It’s nearly April, not that that means anything by itself, but I’ve wanted to brew a bitter for a while now. I reread Pete Brown’s ‘ManWalks Into a Pub’, an excellent book on the evolution of the British public house, and frankly that made me very thirsty. I’ve also been reading TheDoghouse, a pub-based periodical from Ludlow, who also run a micropub from the same office. Fancied a pint.
But no, I’ve wanted to brew a bitter since before then, too. I meant to brew one for the Belfast CAMRA ale festival in November, but missed the deadline by some months. On paper I’d been messing around with a recipe (mainly hop and yeast selection, and a standard malt bill), and so as far back as probably July I’ve been thinking about Bitter.

Bitter is my favourite beer style of all, and it just doesn’t seem to exist in great quantities in Ireland, apart from my occasional trip to Wetherspoons in Derry, where it is served on handpull. It’s time to brew one for the house, for my own set of beer pumps.
The recipe is fairly standard, except that I’ve used a lot more wheat than usual, as I want to really nail the head retention this time. I’m also watching the calcium content for the same reason. The brewing guidelines I’m using today come from Nigel Sadler’s book ‘Notes on Craft AleBrewing’. It’s and excellent reference book, full of calculations and science, and has helped fill in a few gaps that other books have missed. The ‘rules’ that I’m specifically adhereing to are the water guidelines, hop rates and method, yeast pitching rates and so on. If you’ve read the Brewing Elements series, then I can recommend this book too, though it’s more use as a postscript than an introduction.

The yeast comes from the dregs of a bottle of Fuller’s IPA. Yeast culturing is something I haven’t had a proper go at yet, normally opting for sachets of dry yeast (I see nothing wrong with dry yeast, except for the lack of variety, which Mangrove Jacks have gone some way towards rectifying) or the slightly more expensive liquid options. WhiteLabs are fantastic; their standard range, plus the Platinum seasonals, strange new yeasts and bacteria thanks to Yeast Bay, and now even rarer yeasts WhiteLabs ‘the Vault’, it’s a great time to be a homebrewer. However, in the microbrewery, it’s nearly ten times as expensive (or thereabouts, nobody will actually give me a proper price) to buy liquid as dry, for the quantity I need, so I wanted to do a few trials of the stirplate first. I couldn’t be happier with my first effort! The idea is to buy an €8 vial of WhiteLabs and culture it up to the 750g yeast that I need for a brew. This will open up a world of yeast for use in the brewery, without the increased cost.
Just like cats, homebrewers know the warmest places in the house.
Instructions for making a stirplate and starter are readily available online, and I made mine for nothing, using stuff I had lying about the house. One of the options to consider is one magnet or two. That decision was made for me by misplacing one of the pair. The magnet sits in the centre of the computer fan, and works fine. I expect both ways have their merits. Practice using your stirplate with a glass of water first, to see what stirbar size and speed etc will do. I bought a packet of stirbars in various sizes from eBay, which gives me plenty of options, from the tictac sized stirbar for small starters, through liquorice torpedo sized, onto half-a-fudge, which should works in a demijohn.

Just FYI, then, I added 200ml of 1.020 unhopped wort to the dregs of a bottle of Fuller’s IPA, stirred that, increased that to 500ml at 1.030, then one more step to 2 litres of 1.040.

The recipe itself is standard enough:
Pale, 3240g (81%)
Crystal 80, 320g (8%)
Wheat malt, 400g (10%)
Chocolate Malt, 40g (1%) for colour adjustment – I’ve been drinking golden beers for ages

Mashed at 67oc, with water adjusted to
<40ppm alkalinity,
150ppm Chloride,
300ppm Sulphate, and
100 - 200ppm Calcium.
Spargewater the same.

Copper volume, 24litres at 1038, should give me a 20 litre ferment at 1040.
Northdown 6% to bitter, to 30IBU (29g pellets)
Pilgrim 10% at 15 minutes, 15 grams, and ten more at flameout. Some protafloc at 15, too.

Yeast, Fuller’s IPA (I hope it’s not a lager strain used for bottle conditioning, now I’ve gone to all that effort!). Pitched the fresh slurry at 22oc, god knows how much or how little, but

Tasting notes to come.