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Thursday, 22 December 2011

Lazy Brew Day

Due to being busy with work and family commitments I've found it difficult to fit in any brew days for a few months now - since mid-September in fact.

I managed to fit in an emergency brew day a few weeks ago to stock up for Christmas, brewing an old favourite that I knew would be ready for drinking in a short space of time.

Today is my first day of the Christmas holidays and felt it time to put another brew on ready for the New Year. Again I didn't want to do anything adventurous and wanted something tried and tested that would get me ready for more experimental stuff after Christmas.

I decided to go for a Full Mash "kit". The last time I did one of these it was the Brupaks London Bitter kit which turned out wonderfully as it was my first attempt at a full mash beer. All the ingredients were measured out and packaged in a kit with some instructions. The only down side was that the instructions were rather generic and it wasn't made clear as to what the hop schedule should be.

My local micro brewery pub is Fulstow Brewery's Gas Lamp pub so I was interested to find that they sold kits of their beers at the local home brew shop. All of these kits are based on the breweries commercial beers, be it regular beers like Fulstow Common (my favourite) or one-off special beers like Wafty Crank.

The kits themselves are very well put together. They contain all the ingredients required (Grain and hops), the yeast, yeast nutrient, and a sachet of protofloc. It also comes with a set of very detailed instructions which would be particularly useful for an inexperienced brewer.

Everything is individually packaged and clearly labelled. The hops are separated into bittering and aroma and the instructions explain very clearly what should be done and when. The hops come in hop bags in case the brewer doesn't have a hop filter and can be dropped in inside the bag or emptied out into the boiler to do their thing as nature intended.

The kits themselves are very reasonably priced - especially considering the quality of the kit and the contents provided. It is based on a brew house efficiency of about 80% which I don't have a problem achieving but it might be a consideration for anyone new to AG brewing.

At the end of the brew day I've ended up with 23 ltrs of wort at an OG of 1.038. So here's some pictures of the days events.

Preparing the brewing liquor - 31ml of CRS to reduce the residual alkalinity to around 50ppm CaCO3

2tsp Gypsum & 3/4 tsp Calcium Chloride

My brewery.... Tidy isn't it :p

Mashing in

Mash set at 65oC (as per instructions guv'). Mash is for 60mins today.

Sparge run off

The hop shot!

Mmmmm malty smooth

Nearly there

....and rest.

An alien life form?

Spot on 1.038 - Huzzah!

Break material dropping clear.
All in all a successful and enjoyable day of brewing without the normal messing with scales and weighing.

Happy days!

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

The Great British Homebrew Challenge 2011

Homebrewing beer has come a long way over the years. All Grain brewing is becoming more and more popular.  I think the age of technology and the interweb have all played their part in helping this brewing explosion in peoples kitchens, garages, gardens and even the odd shed or two.

Most home brewers can produce quality beers on mostly cobbled together equipment, trying to emulate the ever expanding craft and micro brewers throughout the country, many of whom also started off brewing as a hobby.

One thing that all home brewers like is constructive feedback on their beers, allowing for a never ceasing circle of continuous improvement to process and a better understanding of how to brew really great beers. It is a fantastic hobby to get involved in and has it's rewards at the end - being the end product that can be shared (with friends, family and even strangers via the brew exchange) or kept for personal enjoyment.

Another way of recieving feedback on beers is to enter brewing competitions. However, over the last few years I've realised that the main problem with the success of home brew competitions is the size of the entry, and also the large national competitions are few and far between. Yes, there are national competitions run on a small scale from Internet forums like the Brew Exchange but these never receive a huge amount of interest and eventually after a few competitions the interest seems to die completely.

So it's with a certain amount of excitement that I am now planning for possibly 3 entries into The Great British Homebrew Challenge 2011. Being run by the award winning Thornbridge Brewery in conjuntion with Nicholsons Pubs. There are cash prizes for best in each category with the overall winner being selected by Nicholsons Pubs to be brewed by Thornbridge and served as a beer nationwide in the pub chain.

So now I have some decisions to make. I can enter up to 3 separate categories. Unfortunately 2 of the I'm currently thinking of brewing fall into the same category so I think I need to do some playing around in Beersmith 2. Still, it keeps me off the streets! ;)

So come on fellow homebrewers out there. Don't be afraid to get stuck in. Let's make this homebrew competition a success. Show off your beer and be proud of crafting a quality product from an enjoyable and friendly hobby.

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Wolds Bitter

A while back now I blogged about doing an Ordinary Bitter. it was a case of having most other styles sorted in terms of my own house recipes except for a standard, session bitter.

The brew started off well, hitting all the numbers on the brew day but then I started having yeast issues in fermentation. The liquid yeast I pitched first just didn't get going so eventually I repitched with some Windsor yeast. The Windsor yeast did the job but when the beer went into secondary it was looking a bit on the murky side.

To cut a long story short, it took an age to clear and wasn't tasting that good. Finally in the last few weeks it has dropped bright and clear and the flavour has been transformed. I designed the recipe to have some of the fruity flavours that you get in a Riggwelter but in a smaller beer and with more bitterness.

Although I wanted a smaller beer I still wanted it to have somebody and balance about it. So here it is - weighing in at about 3.8% ABV with a bitterness of around 35 IBUs.

I'll definitely rebrew this but next time with a yeast that'll get to work on it straight away. Maybe Thames Valley liquid yeast or even a Nottingham dried yeast.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Dark Dog Coffee Stout

My last post mentioned plans for a coffee stout using a cold infusion of ground coffee.
I brewed a robust stout based loosly on a couple of old favourites of mine. Once this was finishing primary fermentation I racked it off to a secondary fv on top of the cold coffee infusion that I had prepared a few days before in the fridge.
Before adding the coffee infusion I filtered the coffee grains using a paper filter.
Allof this went into bottles for freshness.
Early samples were a bit poor. There was some harshness to the beer and a strange aftertaste from the coffee. However, given some conditioning time and this has transformed into an extremely drinkable beer.
It pours dark black with a light carbonation with an off white, almost brown, but creamy head which lasts down the glass.
The coffee compliments the roastiness of the beer and the bitterness is about right for my tastes.
Don't get me wrong though. This is not a subtle beer. It's an assertive and complex pint that can fullfill my desire for coffee and beer in one glass.
I'll definitely consider brewing this one again.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

A Flurry of Activity

Even writing the title to this blog entry has got my mind racing about whether trying to make a Mc Flurry beer would be a good idea or not! I'm not quite sure what has happened to me over the last few weeks in fact. Maybe I'm finally coming out of my long period of winter hibernation?

Whatever it is, it's spurred me into thinking and doing homebrew (alot!).

In fact, running out of beer the other weekend might have been partially to blame for this brewing explosion. Now I'm back to a point where I have some established regulars either conditioning or fermenting away and so my mind turns to the more experimental brews - after all that's where the old favourites started off. However experimenting has it's risks and a fair proportion of the experiments will be dropped as bad ideas and never brewed again- the odd one or too are that bad that they are a struggle to finish off.

Recently, and apart from the usual bitters and pale ales, I have brewed lager style beers but using mostly ale type ingredients and yeasts. At this time of year I can't ferment a proper lager yeast and I'm only brewing it to keep the beer guests happy. (Note to self: invest in fermentation temperature control - it's the future!).

Anyway, this morning I was hankering after a good strong black coffee to kick start the day and found that we didn't have any in the house - that's none at all - no filter, no instant, no cafetiere... nothing. Actually we do have a bag of coffee beans that I picked up by mistake thinking it was ground but having no grinder makes getting a decent cup of coffee out of it a bit difficult (I've already been spoken to about blunting the blade on the food processor and the pestle and morter just doesn't cut the mustard).

Obviously this lack of coffee was playing on my mind and so the thought of doing a Coffee Stout crept into my concience. That seed of a thought has grown all morning until I felt impelled to take this further.

So..... I decided on a base recipe for the stout. Something that already has hints of coffee in the malt profile.. This will be brewed as is but a few days before the end of fermentation I will add around 250g of ground roast coffee into a pint of cold filtered water. After stirring this up it will be kept in the fridge for 24 hrs or so before filtering and adding to the secondary fermentor ready for bottling. This cold infusion is supposed to reduce the harsh bitterness of hot coffee but allows the coffee essense to be carried across into the final beer. Well that's the plan!

To de-risk the whole thing I've designed the base recipe by "borrowing" elements from existing recipes for FSOS and my Dark Dog Porter (already based on Gadds Dogbolter recipe).

At the moment the draft version of the recipe goes something like this.

Pale (MO) Malt - 75%
Malted Oats -        4%
Torrefied Wheat -  5%
Chocolate Malt -   5%
Roast Barley -       2%
Amber Malt           5%
Carafa III Sp.        4%

Aiming for an OG of around the 1.044 mark and will mash at about 68oC using a sweet stout water profile.

I will bitter fairly low for a stout at around 35 IBUs using target and goldings with very few late hops.

I'll be sure to post an update when I brew and have tasted the results. In the meantime..... it must be about time to start planning a fruit cake Christmas ale.

Happy Days!

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Top Tips #1

A brewing friend is making his first steps into the murky world of water chemistry and treatment. This got me thinking about what I do and information I've picked up in the last year or so of brewing.

So here are some of my tips to help with this dark side of homebrew.

1] Don't worry too much about the detail. Seriously don't! Unless you have a perverse interest in the complicated chemistry then just learn the basics. There are plenty of resources and calculators on the interweb to help out.

2] Don't try to eradicate the alkalinity completely. You want some residual alkalinity remaining. The amount will depend largely on beer style - or more accurately the malt / colour profile. Darker malts have higher acidity and will remive some of the buffering effect of the alkalinity. Lager < 20, bitter 30-50, Stout / porter 100+ as a guide.

3] Don't worry if it's not spot on straight away. Although based in science there are many factors that affect the end result. These might be recipe or even equipment related. The important thing is to keep tweaking and measuring. You won't be far off.

4] Treat the brewing liquer in bulk and then run with it. Once it's mashing it's too late to make any changes. By all means take the ph measurement at the start of the mash but trying to correct something now will be hard to do and likely to get things worse. Record everything and then tweak next time.

5] Only treat the mash with calcium additions and for alkalinity. Other additions are best added to the boil only as they are detrimental to the processes in the mash.

6] The flavour profile can be changed by tweaking the sulphate / chloride ratio using Gypsum (calcium sulphate) and Calcium Chloride. More sulphate will accentuate hop flavour and bitterness, more chloride will accentuate the malt.

7] Don't be afraid to use common salt in darker beers. Don't over do it - only very small amounts are ever required but as in cooking it can enhance the flavours of the beer being produced.

Saturday, 29 January 2011

Ordinary Bitter

Over the last year I've been working on my own house recipes that I can enjoy over and over. I've got a Best Bitter (Nobbut The Best), a Porter (Dark Dog Porter), an IPA (ConDem Nation IPA), a dark old ale (Farwelter'd Ale) but no session bitter.

That is until now! I wanted to go for something in the region of 3.8% that is bitter but still retains some body and malt presence. I wanted it to be a medium dark bitter and I also wanted to use some ingredients up.

This is what I came up with.
It's a similar grain bill to my Best Bitter but I've added some Pale Chocolate malt to add another dimension. I originally got the Pale Chocolate malt for the Black Sheep Riggwelter clone and am quite impressed with the flavour it brings to the party.

I'll reserve final judgement on the recipe once it's ready to drink but I'm hoping that I won't have to tweak it too much next time and I can add this to my regular beers.

This brew day I decided to really get to know the ingredients I'm using. To do this they need to be handled, tasted and smelt. Tasting the malts and smelling the aroma from the hops. It really helps to get an idea of what the ingredients add and when to (or not to) use them.

This will be pitched with a Wyeast 1028 London Ale yeast made up to a 1L starter for 24 hours. It will ferment at 20oC for 5-7 days. I'm planning on kegging half and bottling half so it might make it into a secondary fermentation vessel for a few days before bottling.

I'm looking forward to tasting it in 4-6 weeks time!

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Gas Lamp Lounge Pub

Something amazing happened to Louth at the beginning of December 2010. Bucking the general trend, a new pub was opened in the town which makes it the first in about 40 years. What's more is that the pub is actually the brewery tap for the local micro - Fulstow Brewery.

Fulstow Brewery is the first brewery situated in the Lincolnshire town for over 130 years. Brewing operations are based in the top floor of a two story building just off the Louth Canal on Thames Street. The building used to be the home to the Louth Gas Lamp Company which dates back to 1826. It has taken 3 years of planning and hard work to get the Gas Lamp Lounge up and running in the ground floor of the brewery building - and what a transformation! From the real wood flooring, the extensive bar, open fire and real gas lamp lighting.

This week I decided that I had left a visit to this new pub far too long and ventured down at opening time. I was genuinely surprised at how busy the place was even early on a Monday evening and the business looks to be thriving. And visitor can expect a warm welcome from the staff behind the bar and will be offered samples of the locally brewed ales to help decide what to spend money on.

The pricing regime is simple and is basically £2.40 per pint no matter what tap the beers flowing from or what the ABV is.
The choice is a good one, ranging from up to 7 regular ales with at least 1 one off 'special' on tap each week (to date that's about 230 different beers in 6 years!).

All of the range sampled tasted great but I settled to start with a pint of the Northway IPA. This was a classic type of dry IPA, pale in colour, quite bitter and dry with a hint of citrus to finish. Clean and crisp in the mouth this is a nice refreshing drink and I could have quite happily had a few more. The ABV was slightly lower than expected for an IPA at 4.2% but it was very good all the same.

Next up I tried the Fulstow Common - apparently the most popular beer on tap. This again packed a punch in terms of bitterness. It was a darker copper coloured session bitter at 3.8% but the bitterness and slight dryness was balanced nicely with a hit of malt flavour. The hoppiness was evident in the beer which was hopped with Northdown and Saaz.

The emphasis on the Gas Lamp Lounge is most definitely on fine real ales and they let the beer do the talking. They are proud to offer friendly service and great beers which can be enjoyed in good company and with good conversation, thanks in part to the fact that there are no other distractions like loud music and machines. Maybe it's this old fashioned pub atmosphere that is making the place so very popular. May it continue to enjoy success for many years!