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.

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(People get ready) Let’s Do Rocksteady

Rocksteady LabelAfter weeks of eager anticipation – on my part at least – my second brew is finally ready for drinking.

So, I today introduce Rocksteady into my stable of brews.

It is a hand-crafted pale ale, very clean tasting, very hoppy and quite potent, weighing in at 5.7% on the hydrometer.

It came from 5kg of crushed lager malt, a half-kilo each of crushed crystal and torrified barley and 100g of Target hops, which were continually dropped in five gram quantities at five minute intervals during the final boil.

I was uncovinced when it came out of primary, it was extremely bitter and sickly. Thankfully, it mellowed out a lot as it cleared after a long spell in secondary and I’m really pleased with what’s come out.

It’s very clean on the tongue. Whereas my first brew, Badfish, was full of biscuity sweet malty notes, with a hoppy finish, this little baby is pure hop right off the bat. It’s not a million miles away from what I had in my head when I designed the recipe, which was somewhere akin to a clone of my fave pint, with a little bit of Madness thrown in.

20140716_213739The fact that it looks like a lager, but tastes very much like a real ale is an added bonus – I’d have been happy with the flavour even if it was brown as dishwater and cloudy as soup.

I’ve had a sneaky couple of bottles already and it goes down well in the sunshine. I’ve a few more chilling in the fridge ready for the weekend.

With the Badfish, I was too Marty McFly to unleash it on anyone other than myself and my folks, but this one has gone to a couple of my closest confidantes in the office for their opinion. Both have refined palettes, so I look forward to their feedback.

Overall, I was more patient with this batch than my previous brew, which has resulted in a marked improvement on my first effort. The main takeaways were:

1) Time is an essential ingredient. It’s worth the extra couple of days in primary, the extra couple of weeks in secondary and the extra few days in the bottle to bring about a more mature, well-rounded result.

20140716_2137132) Don’t rack into primary too early – I left it cooling in the mash tun overnight before transferring to my fermenting bucket. Not only did this help to clear out a lot of the crap, it also helped to aeriate the wort before pitching the yeast. This helped with the overall clarity too – it was crystal bright when I bottled it.

3) Batch prime, not bottle prime – my one main criticism with Badfish was that I primed each bottle individually. The result was some bottles which were relatively flat, some which were on a hair trigger, waiting to explode when I clicked the cap off. I added my priming sugar solution to the finished beer before bottling with this brew and the result is a nice background carbonation with just enough fizz to cut through the hops to a lingering, dry finish.

Name-wise, again, I took inspiration from what I was listening to on the day she was born. The link to Badfish was a happy coincidence rather than a deliberate design, while the monicker also touches on a few other things in life which float my boat.

I break up for a week tomorrow and brew number three is on the way. Until then, here’s an honourary beer to the girls and boys who inspired this brew. Take it away, Gwen…

From barrel to bottle

20140705_095301My second batch of homebrew is now in the bottle, as of yesterday.

Hoping it will be ready to try in a fortnight or so, although I racked off enough for a few crafty sippers while I was bottling.

It’s a lovely straw-like blonde ale, which came out of the fermenter almost crystal clear. It’s alot more clean-tasting than the Badfish and is all hop – there’s no sweet malty notes at all, it’s a very dry and hoppy, bitter brew.

Very refreshing and I’m looking forward to opening the first conditioned bottle in a couple of weeks, once it has a bit of added fizz, to sample.

I’m pleased with the progress I’ve made, as a brewer, between my first and second brews. There were a few things I learned, both from what I was doing and also from the community, which I applied second time around and which have made a noticable improvement on the results.

The main one was slowing down. The whole process, from initial mash to bottling, seemed a lot smoother this time, simply because I took more time between steps.

20140705_100440I think I was just so keen to get my first brew ready that I rushed through the whole thing.

I took my time with this brew and the results are markedly superior – there was more trub in the bottom of the bin after primary, minimal sediment after a longer period in secondary and the beer is much clearer and a lot more mature than Badfish was when it came out of the fermenter.

I’m working on a name/label today and all will be revealed in due course.

It will probably be a couple of weeks before I get my third brew on, but I have a few ideas bouncing around in my head already – I’m either going to refine and redo Badfish, or go for a strong, hoppy stout. We shall see, but I’m already looking forward to it.

Introducing Badfish Bitter…Plus Brew Day Tunes Pt.2

Badfish LabelWhat an awesome day yesterday was.

Finally, after weeks of waiting, I was able to officially christen my debut brew and toast it with my family.

I bring you… Badfish Bitter.

Very pleased with the results. It’s clear. It’s carbonated and has matured a lot since I racked off my first sample before it went into secondary.

20140524_144155Much of the sickly-sweet maltiness has now dissipated and instead, you’re left with smooth biscuit and caramel notes, before a long, dry finish. The hops are the hero, though. More citrussy than floral, it’s got a nice bittery tang which lingers long in the mouth after the liquid has gone.

Room for improvement, sure, but probably a bit better than I was aiming for when I started the project, so I am one happy homebrewer this morning.

The main thing I’ve learned is that brewing requires patience, trial and error and I am indebted to those in the community for their sage words of wisdom, advice and support along the way.

20140524_153131It’s only right I pay it forward by sending a little link love their way, so huge props and crucial thanks in particular to @KevsHead, Gary at Bionic Brewing, The Apartment Homebrewer, The Happy Homebrewer and the Homebrew Handyman.

Now, my family and friends who know I have been working on this beer for weeks have been asking me what it’s called and where the name came from.

I’ve left them all wracking thier brains trying to figure it out for a few days, but it’s time to put them out of their misery.

It’s named after one of the Sublime songs which was playing when it was conceived:

Speaking of tunes, my second mash – I’m aiming for something akin to this –  is bubbling steadily away in the kitchen, ready for some serious sparge in a few moments time. Here’s what’s on today’s brewday playlist:

20140524_144121Pixies – Surfa Rosa. There’s always been a lot of debate about which Pixies album is the best, this one or Doolittle. It misses the point. Both are awesome. End of argument.

No Doubt – Rock Steady. Harshly derided as radio friendly chart fodder here in the UK – in my circles at least – but I don’t agree. No Doubt kick ass and this is their best. Plus, before Katy Perry, Aguilera, P!nk, GaGa et al, there was Gwen Stefani, and she’s better than the lot of them!

Sublime – 40 oz to Freedom. This one kicked off my last brew day, so it must be a lucky omen.

Jurassic 5 – Jurassic 5. I’ve been listening to a lot of hip hop recently and while there is a place for some of the more darker elements of the genre, I love the positivity that oozes out of every single pore of this one.

That should take me until mid-afternoon. New Order, The Kinks and Blur may get a spin later on if there’s time. We’ll see.

Happy Sunday, folks!

Message (almost) in a bottle…

wpid-20140507_195134-1.jpgBrew has been in secondary for the best part of two weeks, but I pitched in some gelatine this evening, ahead of bottling this weekend.

I was extremely diligent with the sanitisation, but the opportunity to syphon off a wee sipper was too hard to resist, so rack off the best part of a pint I did. Here are the tasting notes:

Clarity: Not crystal clear by any stretch, but better than it was before going into secondary. A lot better, in fact. Not expecting perfection, but am hopeful that the gelatine will help get rid of most of the final fug and leave me with a beer you can see through.

Colour: It’s lightened another notch from the nutty-brown concoction it was and now looks like a nice, light ale.

wpid-20140507_194636.jpgTaste: Definitely matured. Still lacks body, which stems from the rushed sparge, but is by no means unpleasant. Much of the maltiness has gone, so the hoppy notes shine through and the finish is dry. I’m pleased at this stage.

Gravity: Dropped from 1018 to 1015, from 1035 at the start. Happy with that for a first attempt, but know where improvements can be made next time. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.

Overall: Not perfect by any stretch, but not as shabby as I was expecting for the first brew, either. I could see myself drinking two or three bottles of this on the patio, in the late sunshine, when the time is right.

The plan is to bottle, name and Christen this batch at the weekend, then get my next one on the weekend after.

I’m thinking pale, in time for Summer, but we’ll see.

For now, cheers people!

For those about to rack…

image…we salute you*

Racked into secondary today. Relatively straightforward process and my fermenter is now sat in the darkened corner of my spare bedroom, gently farting away every few minutes or so to let me know it’s still there.

There was a ring of dingy-looking scum around the top of my fermenting bin after siphoning off the sweet nectar, and a whole heap of shit in the bottom, but I’m hugely relieved that I didn’t skunk my beer.

I siphoned off a crafty sample before racking and am pleased with the results. Here are my preliminary tasting notes:

imageClarity: Still quite murky, but at this stage I’m not too concerned. I plan to leave in secondary for at least two weeks so plenty of time for the sediment to drop and the batch to clear a little.

Colour:  A warm amber. It was at the darker side of brown ale when it went in, but has lightened a lot and has come out much closer to what I was expecting.

Taste: Undeniably beery, but quite light on the pallete. Lacks body – possibly a result of a rushed sparge – but drinkable nonetheless. The hops hit right off the bat, with the sweeter malty notes kicking in and carrying through right at the end. Not fully mature by any stretch, but at this stage, it’s bitter enough to incite a second swig and the finish is quite dry. I’ve drank better and paid for worse, so can’t really complain. If the taste improves as it matures, I’ll consider it a job well done.

imageGravity: Went into primary just shy of 1035. Went into secondary at 1017. Aiming to get it down to 1013 if poss. Again, could be better but could be worse. More attention to the sparge next time should yield better results.

Overall: At this stage – and for my first brew – am moderately happy. It tastes OK, it hasn’t skunked, and is close to what I was aiming for. Not flawless by any stretch, but broadly what I was hoping to achieve first time out and a starting block on which to build. It’s the start of my journey and I build from here.

Cheers, people!

* For those who couldn’t resist the title of this post, this one, courtesy of the world’s ultimate beer drinking band, is just for you…