Selling up

For the moment at least…

We’re moving house in the next few weeks and our new place, despite being bigger, doesn’t have room for a big brew kit. In addition I realise now that I ran before I could walk and didn’t really prepare for moving out of a nice warm house into an uncontrollable garage so the half dozen or so brews I tried have been fairly disastrous in a variety of ways.

So, with a slightly heavy heart, this is a for sale ad…

All the tanks were custom built by Homebrew Builder about two years ago, and have since had a couple of mods (better elements basically). They’re the standard brew pots that he has on his website with taps and elements installed.

  • 1 x 100L stainless steel HLT, single element with tap
  • 1 x 80L stainless steel thermopot mash tun with tap
  • 1 x 100L stainless steel boiler dual element with tap
  • 2 x 100L stainless steel pots with taps used as fermenters
  • 3 x electric pumps with PSUs

You will have to supply connectors and fittings as I’ll keep those for when I get something smaller.

Yours to take away (Leeds LS28) for £350 the lot ONO.

Also three stainless steel kitchen work tables:

  • 2 x 36″ x 24″
  • 1 x 60 x 24″

£150 for collection from the same place. If you want the lot we will work something out.

Would make a nice little test brew system for someone or a nice cheap way of scaling up for someone with a bit more common sense than me.

Contact me at for further information.

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AG#19 – Red Cat Rye IPA

It’s been a while since I did this, the proper job and a small child take up whatever time I have to the point where a working lunch at the local every now and then is the closest I get to a bar (it’s a nice bar anyway), and I haven’t had a chance to completely clean up from this back in September, let alone do another beer.

I had a load of Simcoe left and bought a big bag of Bullion on a hunch from the Malt Miller. Simcoe seems to have run its course as the hop of the moment of autumn of 2013 or thereabouts and Bullion doesn’t seem to have got any traction in the Craft Beer Revolution which is strange as it’s an old fashioned bittering hop with a long pedigree – it was the bittering hop in Guinness and other stouts but needs a flavouring hop to shine. My attempt at a SMASH with Simcoe did finally mature into something interesting and drinkable that pointed to a darker malt combination. A combination of Bullion and Simcoe seemed like a good idea. I also had a bag of Amarillo and added that in. As for the darkness, I wanted flavour rather than colour so rye seemed to be the direction to go in. I also felt like making a big beer that would mature, so came up with this:

  • Maris Otter 78.9%
  • Crystal Rye 10.5%
  • Munich Malt 10.5%
  • Bullion 40 IBU at 60 min
  • Amarillo 4.2 IBU at 15 min
  • Simcoe 5.2 IBU at 15 min
  • Amarillo 1.7 IBU at 5 min
  • Simcoe 2.1 IBU at 5 min
  • Amarillo 4.2 IBU 60 mins steep
  • Simcoe 5.3 IBU 60 mins steep

This came out at an SG of 1071, an IBU of 62.7 and a lovely red EBC of 30. I did a full batch of 60L and it all got to the cooling stage with no problems. I’m still struggling with cooling. In September it was still an unseasonable 18 degrees or so and water cooling and air cooling was still not working that well. I tried to cultivate some yeast from the previous brew and it grew a bit but I had nothing to compare it with and I ended up pitching at around 28 degrees. I left it for a couple of days but there was no attenuation so three packets of S-33 came to the rescue and, thrown into the by then nicely cooled wort, it did its job and, with still no temperature control, attenuated to around 1021. It went into secondary with equal amounts of Bullion, Simcoe and Amarillo for dry hopping for another couple of weeks.

Bottling was done in two passes with what should have been a reliable carbonation level and I left it, still in the garage, for another month. The carbonation didn’t happen, again the garage just isn’t warm enough for that, so I’ve ended up with 90-odd bottles of a beer with just enough carbonation to be drinkable. What is great though is that it has got better over the three months that it has been in the bottle and, despite its lack of fizz, it’s a very drinkable IPA at around 6.6%. The malts are sweet and peppery and the hops show elements of blackcurrant and orange and all in all, if it had some sparkle it would be a pretty good beer even if I do say so myself. I’m enjoying drinking it, which is I suppose is the main thing, but now I feel like I need some time to get it right. Or get anything right. So there’s a slight pause for some retooling but time for another one soon.

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Peak craft and style rearing its ugly head

Update 21/10/14: Box have told me that Criminales was developed for the export market and picked up by B&M, who decided to sell it in the UK. They’ve also told me that there’s a second batch was tweaked a little and is also in B&M – look out for the bottles with the black caps. This post doesn’t really apply so much to them then but I think it’s still generally valid.

The other day Zak Avery posted this observation. In short, beer isn’t going to get better than it is now. To my mind that means both in quality and in the way it’s sold and both are intertwined. This was illustrated for me this weekend when sampling Criminales Gangster, which describes itself as a ‘mighty IPA’ and has, along with the two other beers in the range, been the subject of a glossy promotional campaign and yet is now being sold in B&M stores for 89p a bottle.

Criminales appears to be a brand of well established Midlands brewer Box Steam Brewery, who have been around for for ten years and as such could be seen as just pre-dating or in at the very beginning of the current upsurge in the brewing business. Their beers are well distributed and the two or three I’ve tasted, both in bottle and on draught are pretty good. Gangster is pretty good as well as a lowish ABV English IPA (not Greene King low, but less than many ‘craft’ IPAs): it’s got a touch of malt and a leafy bitterness with a hint of citrus. I suspect this might be where the problem lies: Criminales appears to be an attempt to get into the current upsurge: striking label designs and a promotional campaign full of bearded young men in order to get onto shelves and into fridges where other bearded young men might see them. This is no bad thing of course, if you’re making beer professionally you need to sell it, but at the moment the expectations of that market and the expectations of many longer serving brewers may be different.

I’m middle aged and mad and I have a two year old climbing over me much of the time but from the beer blogs I’ve read in the last year or so there seem to be some things that define hipster beer (for want of a term): a common expectation is that it’s heavy on the citrus hops (‘it tastes of grapefruit’ came from somewhere – my citations, are unfortunately, always needed) and that a lot of new brewers like to project an extreme or outsider image on the packaging at least. On the brewing side (someone else said this and again there’s another ‘citation needed’ here) one of the things that has caught established brewers on the hop (cough) is that when they try and make beers that meet those expectations, they still use their tried and tested toolset because it works. What doesn’t work is that those yellow citrus thirds in those paddles aren’t made with leaf hops and your pet yeast strain, and I may be wrong but that’s what seems to have happened with Criminales, at least in the case of Gangster. I recognise this because it’s something that I’ve come to a conclusion about myself recently: you aren’t going to make an authentic American style IPA or hoppy pale unless you have the right malts (easyish), the right hops, and more to the point the right way of delivering them (without having tested it yet, pellets seem to be the way forward) and perhaps more often overlooked, the right yeast. It’s all part of the learning process and one I’m still stumbling forward with in fits and starts.

The promotional campaign also relates to something that was said about a lot of new breweries in the past couple of years, which again I think Zak said (along these lines) get the logo sorted out and the t-shirts printed and the beer is further down the priority list. A new commercial brewer is walking into a busy market right now, and as in any busy market you have to shout to be heard, but the right look is never going to be a substitute for quality product, so the reputation of any brewer is always going to come back to their beer. We are incredibly fortunate with the vast choice that we have now and the temptation for a brewer to step out of a comfort zone or do something ostensibly extreme must be great but in my experience as a semi-rabid ticker it seems to require more than ‘add more hops’: Box aren’t the first to try it and they won’t be the last, and there’s no reason why they shouldn’t but if a brewery has a good reputation for what it does, it seems counterproductive to try and take on what is probably a largely transient market on both sides of the counter, and then to seemingly dump the project in a high street discounter.

Then again, they’ve probably got their beers in more stores than a lot of other brewers of their size today, which is something, so what do I know?

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Session #92: I Made This

As I really started this blog to talk about my experiences in home brewing with the possible intention of becoming a proper brewer, I suppose I had better write something for Session 92.

Beer has been a interest of mine for many years. I started my drinking career in the mid-80s and have always enjoyed trying new brews from around the world. The recent beer revival came at a perfect time, providing an alternative to lagery stagnation, and as a nerd looking for something else to be nerdy about, it seemed a logical progression to understand how it worked. I had tried an extract kit as an 18 year old and found it was more complicated than it should have been, even though my Dad drank a far bit of the end product, so I took a trip to Abbey Homebrew one Saturday afternoon, put my card on the table and said ‘I want to make beer please’.

I walked out £130 lighter with a collection of buckets, pipes, extract, hops and yeast and  the inspiration to at least have a go. It was still more complicated than it should have been and the mental shopping list started to grow as soon as I found that the boiled wort had to cool down before the yeast was pitched. Lacking the snowbank suggested by John Palmer’s How to Brew I ended up leaving it to cool overnight, a risk by some accounts but not so bad really. The immersion cooler was the first next addition to the collection.

The first beer wasn’t too bad and Palmer’s book lifted the mist of the language of brewing but twitched a curtain into the science, and suitably inspired and somewhat to my wife’s chagrin, I spent the next six months trying again and again, and problems were solved by searching and buying. Extract lead to grain and an Igloo mash tun. The Brupaks boiler became a 30L stovetop pot. There were many buckets. I tried as many styles as I could: pale ale, IPA, stout, even a very successful Belgian blonde (a house being kept warm for a new born baby is very good for the style, not to mention bottle conditioning it). Then the back of the garage got cleared and rewired and filled with stainless steel, again to my wife’s chagrin. The learning curve got steeper and is still going up. There’s more stuff to buy. Things do keep going wrong. When things go right it’s mostly through serendipity. There are a lot of things to clean. But when it works it’s a great feeling to be able to drink a beer that you made and know that as much as anything else it’s been made because you want to make it and it’s about understanding how brewing works.

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Session 91: My First Belgian

Late to the party as usual, but here’s my piece for Session 91.

It was about 1990 or 1991, when Tesco came to Doncaster town centre. Flush with first job cash, I decided to get a selection from their pretty remarkable selection of beer for my Christmas holiday drinking delectation. For the time, and for a small town boozer, there was a considerable choice, certainly a different world from the £2.49 4-pack of Sainsbury’s Dutch lager that sustained me most weekends.

I can certainly remember there was a kriek in my haul, and a 75cl bottle of Chimay Red but not much else any more. The Chimay was drunk with Christmas dinner (and relatively slowly over the afternoon for a change) as it was a novelty, a big bottle of beer with a champagne cork stopper. I think there might have been a Chimay Blue as well, saved for New Year’s Eve because of its daunting 9% ABV. I seem to remember that the Chimay Red was a little disappointing as it was a darker ale than I was expecting and as you may or may not know, it has that odd ‘gritty’ carbonation and little of the flavours associated with many Belgian beers.

I spent much of the 90s in London and saw little Belgian beer at all, despite certainly going on a couple of trips to Belgo in Camden Town and indeed on a tour up the E40 from Cherbourg to Amsterdam where I spent one evening in a pleasant bar in Bruges’ Grote Markt drinking Jupiler because I didn’t know what to order. Then in the late 90s I found myself living near the Doves in London Fields, which had prided itself on its selection of Belgian beers and indeed the matching glasses, (although just the one Kwak glass with its stand) and became an occasional visitor, but the next event that really sticks in my mind was the appearance of Hoegaarden on many bars. It was undoubtedly a premium beer, costing as a much as a pound a pint more than other beers of a similar strength in a lot of pubs, but also for being seemingly the only alternative to lager, whereever it came from, and Guinness in many central London pubs. Thinking about it now, I really can’t remember whether most pubs, with the noble exception of Samuel Smith’s and Young’s, even had a token bitter or ale, as often or not Caffreys or similar or maybe a lonely Directors or Pride handpull. Maybe I had just stopped looking. It was certainly the beer of choice in the summer of 1999 and I drank it regularly for quite some time, even when moving back to Yorkshire. I have a half pint glass I got free for drinking, well, several in some promotion or other.

As craft beer has regained its place in pubs and bars and its popularity has grown, I have also found an interest in brewing from elsewhere, and Belgium is of course especially of interest if only for the range and diversity of beer. The book ‘All Belgian Beers’ is a joy to flick through, as much an art project as a guide, and the discovery of Belgian Beer Factory‘s vast catalogue has give me another source of drinking pleasure to explore, plus the joy of trying to explain Orval to people. I even made a reasonably successful Belgian blonde as an early brew as a house kept warm for a young child also provides the right climate for Belgian yeast to do its thing. There is an incredible diversity in Belgian beers that is worth the time to explore. I’d better get back to the book…

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AG#18 – scrabbling towards something

The intention for this beer was a pale ale with NZ hops. I don’t want to say an NZ pale as I wasn’t sure of my small antipodean hop stash, so the recipe was this:

  • Maris Otter – 47.2%
  • Pilsner – 47.2%
  • Torrified wheat – 4.7%
  • Crystal dark – 0.9%
  • Hallertauer Aroma – 15.8 IBU – Boil 30 min
  • Pacifica – 3.3 IBU – Boil 15 min
  • Wakatu – 3.6 IBU – Boil 15 min
  • Pacifica – 2.6 IBU – Boil 5  min
  • Wakatu – 2.8 IBU – Boil 5 min
  • Hallertauer Aroma – 3.0 IBU – Steep 30 min
  • Pacifica – 2.6 IBU – Steep 30 min
  • Wakatu – 2.8 IBU – Steep 30 min
  • Safale American US-05
  • Leftover hops dry hopped for 4 days

The total IBU came to 33.8 and I used the Beersmith profile for Australian Pale Ale.

I brewed this as our traditional two weeks of summer ended and the temperature dropped by to 18-19 degrees C. The mash and boil went with no problems and I came once again to my bugbear, chilling. I had the counterflow chiller set up correctly and I can safely say, just using water out of the outside tap and draining the boiler at the slowest rate possible, the temperature can drop by a good 40 – 50 degrees. The only problem is that even after 30 minutes steeping and cooling, this still means that the wort is going into the fermenter at 30 degrees C, and that’s still too much for US-05 even after standing for another hour.

After a week in the fermenter the beer had got down to about 1014, the target in secondary, so I transferred and dry hopped with the rest of the hops from the 100g packs and left it for another five days before bottling.

Another thing here was the choice of hops. I bought the Hallertauer Aroma a couple of years ago in the throes of Idiot Glee (and probably because it was cheap) and then got the Wakatu and Pacifica last year.  Doing a bit of research I found that Hallertauer Aroma was renamed Wakatu last year. So this is a beer with about 75% of the same hop of differing vintages, and it’s all low alpha. I did do a bit of research and this was deliberate so in theory it should have been all flavour and quite a low bitterness. Many of you will note that 33.8 IBU is actually fairly high, and yes, out of primary there was a lemony sharpness but the dry hopping added little more.

I filled three minikegs with 15g each of sugar for carbonation and bottled the rest with what I estimated I need for about 30 litres. I actually got 32 500ml bottles out. I opened a keg (on which more later) after a week and it was not too bad but slightly undercarbonated, and have tried a couple of bottles this weekend and they gush if not chilled but have a heavy hint of DME, which from experience should go after another couple of weeks and seems to be an artefact of pitching US-05 too hot. It has also come out as about 80% ‘generic beer’, a sort of brown plasticine of homebrew that tastes like beer but is clearly not good beer, possibly through poor storage of hops on top of everything else. On the positive side, I actually have beer, so the next step is to improve cooling (again) and improve temperature control in fermentation. This is easy enough with 25L batches but needs some rethinking when you get bigger. So the next step may be to get smaller again.

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Mixed fortunes

I haven’t written much here recently as it’s all been a bit disheartening. I have still been struggling with kit a bit and I’m yet to make anything I’m happy with although, but here’s a summary of the last two brews in the hope that it might provide a bit of help for youse out there.

AG#16: Simcoe S.M.A.S.H.

I bought half a kilogram of Simcoe from The Malt Miller so I thought I’d better use it, and try and do yer actual single hop single malt beer to get an idea of what is possible. The recipe was therefore fairly simple:

  • Maris Otter 100%
  • Boil 75 minutes
  • Simcoe 35 IBU 60 mins
  • Simcoe 6 IBU 15 mins
  • Simcoe 2.5 IBU 5 mins
  • Simcoe 5.7 IBU flame out
  • Safale US 05

The mash went well, oh yes, no problems there. But when I started to transfer into the boiler, one of the elements started to leak around the seal and I spilled a fair amount of wort. The stupid thing was that I had bought some locking nuts for the elements but decided not to bother straight away as it seemed secure enough.

So, down to about 40 litres of wort, I started the boil only to find that one of my boiler elements was actually dead. I pressed on, taking longer to get up to the boil than I wanted, but I got that fantastic blackcurrant smell from the Simcoe.

At transfer into the fermenter, things when awry again. The hoprocket doesn’t really like being pumped through even at the lowest rate I could get it to do, and I had thought that having a pump in line to drive cooling water would make the cooling process better, but it didn’t, and the wort still ended up in the FV at around 35 degrees. After trying to recirculate and letting it cool for a while I gave in and pitched the yeast at around 30 degrees mostly because it was climbing out of its jar and it was getting late. This time I had also managed to set up an aquarium heater properly and had it set at 20 degrees. The wort went in at about 1047 SG and I left the beer with the usual lack of hope.

After a day or so I checked on the FV and the yeast had grown remarkably well although it wasn’t actually top fermenting, rather a bit below the surface. It seemed to be attenuating well though so I left it for a few more days and got it more or less down to the target gravity. It didn’t have much of the hop flavour I was aiming for but was decent enough.

I finally got 20 bottles out of the brew, which represents not very efficient at all. In the spirit of having nothing left to lose I used coconut sugar as I had some in the house at a fairly low carbonation rate (around 1.8 volumes or thereabouts).

The beer actually hasn’t turned out too badly. It was rough after a week in the bottle, but has improved. There was an amount of DME flavour early on, no doubt because of the high pitching temperature, but that seems to have decreased in the later bottles. It didn’t have the level of Simcoe flavour that I was aiming for, but reading around a little, the general consensus seems to be to use it lots and use it late, and also not as a bittering hop as despite its high alpha ratio. As with my previous Chinook SMASH, at around 40 IBU (according to BeerSmith) you get a pleasant tasting beer with a little of the signature flavour of the hop, but not the hop monsters that SMASH brews seem to be, so late and more seems to be the key. As for equipment, well, some tinkering was in order: the hoprocket has been taken out of the chain and I still needed the get the chiller to work properly.

AG#17: The Golden Age (of poor stock control)

Back to the quest for a good pale. My original intention was to make a golden ale with all British hops at around 4.2% and to take a keg on holiday. I had a 100g bag of Pilot which I bought with the intention of using it in such a beer. If you’re not familiar, it is quite rare and described as mild lemon and herb, with an alpha of around 9%, which seemed to fit the bill for a bittering hop. I *thought* I had 100g of East Kent Goldings but it would have appeared to have been thrown away with a bit of a stock cull I had to carry out (it’s been a while after all), so I turned to an old faithful, Cascade.:

  • Maris Otter 99%
  • Crystal Dark 1%
  • Pilot 30 IBU 60 minutes
  • Cascade 7 IBU 15 minutes
  • Cascade 3 IBU 5 minutes
  • Cascade 2 IBU flame out 30 minutes
  • Safale-03 yeast (well, two Safale-03, one Lallemande Nottingham, all a couple of months out of date)

(all additions a bit rough as I managed to overwrite the recipe in Beersmith. Yes, that too.)

Mash went well, boil went well, and then we came to the cooling. As pumps seem too fast, with a bit of thought I have rearranged the kit to let gravity do its thing, which is a lot more controllable. There was a decent throughput of water and transfer was nice and slow and yet the wort was still hitting the FV at about 30 degrees. Better, but still not right. Gave it an hour, pitched the yeast. OG was about 1045, again within range. I asked on Twitter what I might be doing wrong and got some excellent help from @stringersbeer, who suggested that I probably had my connections the wrong way round. He was right. There is a clue in the name ‘counterflow chiller’ after all.

After five days it was still at around 1020, still too high. Heating seemed to been working and the yeast had flocculated nicely, so I gave it a bit of a stir and left it another couple of days. It got down to about 1016 but the yeast was starting to look a little unhealthy so I transferred to secondary. Through various circumstances it stayed in there for a week or so and looked more unhealthy. Surely enough there was a hint of vinegar in the beer, an infection had got in somewhere. Not good at all. For all that, I tried putting 15 litres in three mini kegs but dumped the rest. Yesterday I tapped a keg, not expecting anything good. The carbonation was actually fairly good but the acetic acid smell and taste was enough to make it undrinkable. My wife said it actually smelled quite nice, but definitely had a vinegar edge, but I couldn’t smell anything other than Sarsons. So it’s been binned. The kegging was successful at least so that’s something to try again.

So: getting there a bit at a time, but there’s sometimes one step forward and one back.

I felt I had to have another go in case a hot summer stops play for a while. Fortunately, Glastonbury and Wimbledon have conspired to provide a weekend more fitting to March than June, ideal brewing weather. More to follow…

Oh, and does anyone want a Hoprocket?

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Meanwhile, back at the retail park…

This is something I’ve been thinking about since I started collecting my Christmas beer stash. Despite my attempts to shop locally and support local producers, like almost everyone else, we end up at the supermarket because it’s easy. So, despite getting a case in from Beer Ritz, and coming across the guys from Northern Monk selling their wares at Baildon Farmers’ Market I ended up casually collecting more beer from assorted excursions to our local megamarts. The conclusion I drew from an admittedly small but varied selection across north-west Leeds is that the Craft Beer Revolution ™ *cough* isn’t really reaching supermarket shelves and seems to be in decline in them.

I don’t think there’s any doubt that there’s more real ale available than there would have been even five years ago, but there seems to be less than there was a year ago, with the big boys either entrenching with their pet providers or stocking up their own label brands, and campaigns such as Sainsburys’ Great British Beer Hunt providing exposure to some of the more established independent brewers but with a fairly mediocre selection of beers and in a non-permanent way. My local Asda is the flagship store at Owlcotes, and despite the irony of now being owned by and styled like the notoriously dry Wal-mart in the US, it does carry quite a good range from the brewers who can supply stores of that size, even though it may be one beer from each. Beyond that though, it’s big names from down south and a lot of fairly average beer, notably in Asda and Morrisons, both based in West Yorkshire, but who have gone out of the area for their own brand products: Asda to Shepherd Neame and Morrisons to Titanic, Marstons and, exceptionally, Black Sheep. At the next level, M&S have their somewhat variable relabelled range, Waitrose have adopted Thornbridge and their growing range of own brand beers is actually quite good in a sort of M&S kind of way and Booths are the real exception, stocking their shelves with local beers from Lancashire, Cumbria and beyond, but of course they still don’t have much of a presence in Yorkshire, and it’s hard to justify a trip to Ilkley just to  stock up the beer cupboard, but they have brought Hardknott, Stringers and Ulverston among others to a wider audience than they might have otherwise received.

However, back at the big four it really seems that momentum has dropped off. There was a time a couple of years ago when there was a sort of testing phase and new beers did seem to be appearing on the shelves. As often as not they might have been sourced through the megabrewers or beer distribution companies – and when you get into Belgian beers and the like, it’s remarkable how many breweries are actually owned by ABInBev or indeed Duvel Moortgat – but there was a feeling that they were all testing this new beer market to see what to sell, and that that experimentation has more or less stopped.

Alternatively, the big four are currently jostling in a price matching race in response to competition from Aldi and Lidl and real ale or craft beer is one of those things that can’t really be discounted unless it’s bought in large quantities of the scale provided by Shepherd Neame or Marstons, or if there are guaranteed sales – Brewdog Punk IPA is notable by its ubiquity on the strong beer shelf, often somewhere near Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, for example. Even Sainsbury’s, who are excellent at finding new products in odd categories, don’t seem to have converted the Great British Beer Hunt into new products on the shelves (I just had to look up what ‘won’ last year and I haven’t seen it at any of the three stores that we use, and I would try it as a matter of course).

Does it matter? Probably not. There are plenty of ways of finding and buying new beers, and if nothing else, the current interest in beer has been driven to a large extent by the Internet, which runs ahead of large scale retail at a rate of knots. The majority of what can be found on supermarket shelves is average and displays Marstons’ forte for promotion. That there are local beers available is gratifying, and I hope it’s the same in the rest of the country, but supermarkets are there for convenience, and most have enough beer to look like they provide a choice, so when I can browse Beer Ritz’s virtual shelves (and even visit their shop, when I manage to find it), or visit The Curious Hop in Otley, I’m happy with what is available to me. What is remarkable I think is that none of the new bucks in the game, even the ones who have leapt on the beer wagon as a business choice, seem to have made it to the self-service checkout yet. However, as with the fruit and veg and artisan cakes at the farmers’ market, it’s as much about what you know as where you buy it from, and if a business can be sustained without having to kowtow to the supermarkets’ demands, then we might be onto something.

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AG#14 – A catalogue of disasters

So, my first excursion on my new kit didn’t go *that* well at first… Don’t get me wrong, the kit worked fine, everything nicely made and finished – it was the bits that I put together that didn’t go so well.

The plan was for a single hop Chinook pale, mostly because I have a selection of unopened packets of hops from last year that I’m planning to use on the test brews, so it was as follows:

  • 98.4% Maris Otter
  • 1.6% Caragold
  • 34.7 IBUs Chinook @ 60 minutes
  • 5.3 IBUs Chinook @ 20 minutes
  • Left over Chinook for aroma
  • Safale US-05

Getting from HLT to mash tun to boiler went fine. A thermopot as a mash tun is a wonderful thing and keeps the mash at the heat you want it for a very long time indeed. It was still fairly hot when I dug it out the next day. The boil took longer than expected as I think one of the elements wasn’t running, but I suspect that was due to my overenthusiastic wiring hackery rather than any problem with it.

Then I had to transfer from boiler to fermenter and that’s where things went a little bit askance. I succumbed and bought a HopRocket for aroma purposes and connected it between the boiler and the cooler in the approved way, but rather bodged it. Hot wort softens silicone hose rather quickly, and if you don’t secure your joints with hose rings, it will try and find its way out wherever it can, more so if you are overenthusiastic with the flow from your boiler through your pump, you can end up squirting hot wort across the floor. A couple of field repairs later and the leaks were more or less fixed, but having not learned my lesson I pumped the remaining wort through at too high a rate, which doesn’t cool it. It got down to about 35 degrees but wort in a stainless steel tank takes a long time to properly cool down. Overnight in fact. In the meantime I had to dispose of my very enthusiastic US-05 colony as I didn’t think it would be much the use the next day, and rethink my fermenting plan. However, the wort’s OG was a decent 1050, which seemed promising.

The next morning the wort had come down to a usable temperature, and looked OK, but rather than risking some expensive US-05 I decided to pitch some assorted ale yeasts I had lying around. It was all probably of a Nottingham strain anyway so I activated three packets and pitched it. I had intended to set up some heating with some aquarium components as I that’s where most of my problems lie, and why I ‘m now in the garage rather than fermenting at baby-friendly temperatures in the house. However, the ATC-800+ temperature controller I had bought had a small problem – the wiring diagram that comes with it is about as much use as a chocolate fireguard. Fortunately, October in the Costa del Airedale was warm, with an average of about 16 degrees, so I wrapped the tank in blankets and left it for a few days with not a great deal of optimism and some ruminations about this whole brewing business.

After five days I took a sample (it’s so much easier with a tap in your fermenter) and it checked in at a very respectable 1014, so the ale yeasts were doing their job. I decided to leave it for a few more days to see if it would reach the target of 1012. It came down another point over another five days, which was fine by me, so I decided to rack and bottle.

As an improvement on a racking cane, I’ve invested in a Brouwland bottle filler from BrewUK, but when you’re trying to pull everything together in a bit of a hurry, these aren’t the most intuitive things to use. I assumed it was gravity based or pressure based, but when I filled the reservoir and tried to fill a bottle, nothing. To cut a long story short, in the end, I hastily cleaned out a King Keg and filled it, and popped a CO2 capsule in it, still not expecting much. The bottler, perhaps remarkably, is still syphon based and requires ‘priming’ (a good suck) to get started. Doh.

After a week I gave the keg a go, and it actually wasn’t too bad. After another week it had carbonated nicely and is pretty drinkable. It’s not the beer I had intended to make, but the relatively low hopping rate and lack of aroma hops probably accounted for that – I used a total of 100g of hops on a 55 litre batch – but I’ve had commercial British beers that claimed to be ‘hoppy’ and that didn’t taste much different. Despite going counter to the ‘right’ way of brewing a beer and stumbling through with new and untested kit, I still got something out that worked, proving that beer really is a forgiving mistress. I suppose it isn’t much different from the way that beer has been made for most of its existence, but not the way you want to be doing it on some serious hobby kit.

Still, I have to learn from my mistakes and, unlike Sir Arthur Streeb-Greebling, not repeat all of them exactly, and from this it’s been:

  • Make sure all connections are working correctly.
  • Control your flow rate through the plate chiller to make sure it actually chills. Oh, and use decent connectors for your cooling water.
  • Know how your bottling kit works before you start bottling.

I also need to do something safer and more reliable with power, and I’m building a simple power board to balance three elements and three pumps. It’s at time like this that you understand why ‘homebrew’ has become a term in other hobbies besides just making beer.

It doesn’t look likely that I’ll get a chance to make another beer before Christmas, and the intention is to do another test before getting into doing something a bit more serious so there’ll be more thinking and planning (and a King Keg of beer to get through).


Filed under beer, brewing, thinking

Puckering up

It’s been a couple of months since the last missive. In the meantime I took delivery of my kit from Homebrewbuilder, started laying it out in the garage and then decided that for the sake of a few quid, I could upgrade to 100L fermentors (not his conicals – yet) and get one of his thermopot mash tuns rather than trying to fit a pint into a half glass using my Igloo, so in a couple of weeks I should have a capacity of around 80 litres a batch. In the meantime, I managed to finish off most of my brews and so, in the spirit of exploration, have been looking at what my local offy and BeerRitz By Mail have to offer. As we’ve had a summer this year, the British beers available locally didn’t appeal, so I ended up exploring the fridges and wasn’t disappointed. Our offy, an outpost of the Rhythm and Booze empire, stocks a pretty good selection of American, Belgian and German beers of a non-lager nature, so I have been happily exploring them and finding out that tiny beers of a considerable strength are really quite a good thing, including Flying Dog‘s (appallingly named) Raging Bitch Belgian IPA and Snake Dog IPA, and yeractual Belgian beers from Chimay, Duvel and La Chouffe among others, a better choice than you’d expect from a High Street bucket shifter. They were just what the weather required as an alternative to guzzling lager or pales.

This week I had a box from Beer Ritz. I had no real theme in mind this time after trying their Belgian selection and putting together my own IPA box but as my recent theme has been strong beers I ended up with quite a few on the high side of 7%, several of which are described as Double or Extra IPAs. And now, knowing that a taste in beer is utterly personal and completely subjective and that this brush in my hand is really quite wide, I have to say I don’t particularly like double IPAs. I’ve had three or four recently and they’ve all been, well, difficult to drink in differing ways, but mostly mouthpuckeringly bitter, and that, I’ve found, isn’t what I want in a beer. A double IPA seems to be as much an intellectual exercise as a demonstration of craft brewing but for me doesn’t often hit the mark. The Ghost Drinker has also recently said a similar thing, that balance in extreme beers is hard to find. I can see the temptation, and many of the tales in Mitch Steel’s IPA: Brewing Techniques, Recipes & the Evolution of India Pale Ale
are of the continually and the heavily hopped, which sound great on paper but on evidence may be less enjoyable in the glass. Not that it would stop me trying if I was offered any of them, of course.

I’ve also just read Brew Like a Monk: Trappist, Abbey, and Strong Belgian Ales and How to Brew Them and been suitably enlightened. It doesn’t involve wearing a cassock, well, not all the time anyway, but it involves understanding the different view that Belgians take of beer and explains the way in which they have elevated brewing to the heady heights that they sometimes achieve. Can’t wait to get my pots and get started.

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