Last batch gone, next batch on

Seems like an age since I started this post off, but events at work and home kind of took over my life for the past few weeks, so what I initially started out wanting to say has moved on somewhat.

My last brew made it into the bottle and is all finished. Again, it was a step-up from my last beer.

image Burnt amber in colour, it was so hoppy in both nose and flavour that it was christened ‘Hoppy Jack’.

It was my clearest and cleanest-tasting brew to date. Some of the early bottles could have done with another couple of weeks of conditioning before being consumed, but the latter ones were more or less see through, which I was very pleased with.

The hops, however, did not do what I was expecting at all.

I used an early drop of Citra and EKG in the boil, with the remaining hops dropped in dry.

I was expecting really big, floral and citrussy flavours in the end product, but what I got instead was a really dark and fruity, almost plummy flavour, with intense notes of pine, treacle, aniseed and cassis. Others who tried it reported hints of honey, orange blossom, cinnamon (??) and fennel.

All very strange, but no matter, it was an enjoyable brew and didn’t last long enough.

Anyhoo, it’s been a few months since the mash tun has been out, but it’s busy bubbling away in the kitchen at the moment on my dark winter ale.

It’s base is marris otter, but there is a kilo each of black malt and crystal thrown in for good measure. The liquor is an inky black at present and the whole house smells of coffee and bonfire toffee.

I’ll flavour it up later with some Saaz and 2014 harvest Green Bullet hops (13% alpha), reserving some back for a dry drop in secondary.

Hoping to at least get this one in the bottle in time for Christmas, but as we all know, these things take time.


Hot n Hoppy Chilli Sauce

20140805_191950Beer aside, I’m a bit of a chilli freak… the hotter, the better in my book. 

I love that feeling you get when the first embers of a nice and spicy sauce start to fire up the synapses on the tongue, building into a crescendo of flames before the endorphins kick in and start working their serene and calming magic.

Wherever we go, if I see a hot chilli sauce – or rub, or powder, or pickle – that I’ve not sampled before, I have to buy it and give it a test drive.

On Sunday just gone, I was in paradise. The great East Midlands Chilli Festival was in town, so I got to troop my long-suffering other half and our daughter from stall to stall, trying every last fiery delight until my tongue was burned out, before settling on some booty to bring back.

I got three distinct and different jars of the fieriest sauces I could find and plan to review them here at some point in the future, so we’ll leave it there for now.

20140805_194110Because the main point of this post is not what I bought at the weekend, but what I made last week, when I came across these little bad boys in the supermarket.

Officially certified the hottest in the world and packing a whopping two million Schoville, they may look cute and harmless, but they could bring down a rhino at five paces.

Now, I’ve always been intrigued by the idea of chilli beer and whether or not it’s possible to create one that sates my need for heat without ruining the whole beer drinking experience.

I’ve tried various alcoholic concoctions laced with capsaicin in the past, with varying effects, and overall, find the drinking experience too weird to be enjoyable. 

Even in its mildest form, any drink which instantly sets the palette aflame – soup excepted – doesn’t really float my boat. 

So, with chilli beer firmly off the menu, my plan was to tackle it from another angle instead… after all, if the chilli won’t make the beer, why not see if the beer can make the chilli?

Now, a big component of my basic hot sauce recipe, regardless of whatever chillies I may have to hand, is having something sour to balance out the sweetness of the tomatoes, the heat of the chilli and the fragrance of the spices. 

It usually takes the form of the juice and rind of a couple of lemons, limes or even grapefruit, depending on what looks fresh and juicy in the store. 

On this occasion, it was two whole lemons and two whole limes, juiced, to start off the boil. Added to that, a half-litre of passata, a proprietary mix of the three Cs… that’s cumin, cardamom and coriander, and a liberal dose of chopped Trinidad Scorpion Chilies (four whole packs, to be precise).

Then came the beery twist – courtesy of some of the used hops left over from my latest brew. I went with the Citra, given their fresh and citrussy fragrance and high alpha content, which would hopefully lend a bitter dimension to the overall recipe.

20140805_193140I took a handful of the lovely, whole hop flowers and did a very gentle infusion in a saucepan of warm water.

The resulting brew was more fragrant and less hoppy than I was expecting, more like a very delicate lemon tea than a full-bodied IPA, but a pleasant aroma nonetheless. 

It had no chance of standing up to the big, bold flavours of the tomatoes, citrus and spices – and, of course, the chillies – in the finished product, but the aim was to enhance, rather than overpower, the other ingredients. 

The rest of the process was simple, just cooking it out until the sauce was the consistency of thick ketchup, before allowing to cool and spooning it into a kilner jar to chill… after a crafty sample, of course.

20140806_075528Did it disappoint?

No… I had the merest scraping of sauce on the corner of a tortilla chip and my mouth was on fire instantly.

Despite the heat, though, the floral notes from the chillies cut through the sourness from the lemons and limes, while the hops lingered on the nose.

Three hours later, it still felt as if I’d licked a hot iron.

All in all, a job well done – perhaps too hot to eat on its own as a dip or a sauce, but excellent for adding extra punch to a curry, bolognaise or, of course, a chilli con carne. 

It will be fun finding a decent beer to go with it – I’m thinking a nice, fragrant Saison or a hoppy IPA… any suggestions, folks? 

Let’s go to the Hop…

20140723_195412Yesterday’s mash finally cooled enough to pitch my yeast at around 3.30pm today – a full 24-hours after I shut down the boiler. 

After pouring off a jug-full of cloudy, sludgy, trub-infused liquor, out came the sweet stuff.

Once again, I’m very pleased with the clarity at this stage and OG was still at 1048, so no major quibbles there either.

I pitched the yeast/yeast nutrient and there was movement pretty much straight away, with a thin layer of cream-like foam forming on top as I gave it a good stir.

It was about a half-inch in depth by the time I put the lid on my fermenting bin.

As of 7.30pm UK time, it was fizzing away like mad and the lid of the bin has puffed up like a mushroom, with little give when pressed.

My porch now smells like Mansfield did when I was a kid. 

It’s darkened a notch overnight and is now a lovely dark ruby, rather than the burnt amber hue of yesterday, although I expect it to lighten back up once the yeast gets to work and does its thing.

My last batch went exactly the same, a really vigourous primary which was over in around 72 hours – if this one follows the same path, I may be able to transfer to secondary before I go back to work next week.

Which leads me to the main point of this post…

HopMy plan with this one is to dry hop it with a mix of the EKG and Citra hops I have left over from the bittering process yesterday. I’ve done a bit of reading up on the best way of going about it, but the internet being the internet, you can read ten different sites and get ten different and conflicting pieces of advice. 

My main concerns are around clarity (and if dry-hopping makes a noticeable difference); infection (although, to be fair, almost every site I have read has said I shouldn’t have any issues with this) and method. 

So, my questions to the awesome homebrew community – and especially to those with a more experienced and nuanced technique than mine currently is – are:

1) Do I contain my hops in a muslin bag or just drop them straight into the wort? And if the former, will it make that much of a difference to the final clarity of my brew?

2) Anything I can do to minimise the floaty bits and ensure my finished brew is as clear as can be?

3) Any general tips, ideas or things that have worked for you in the past?

As always, all advice appreciated and I’ll share some link-love and Tweet props to all who help.