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.

Cheers

Jon

Reflections on brew day three

An absolute scorcher of a day in my particular corner of the UK made for a sticky and uncomfortable time in the kitchen, as I toiled over my third batch of homebrew.

Swelter though I did, fuelled by green tea and iced water, I seemed glide through the process this time with no particular stresses or strains and the whole day was enjoyable and relatively pain free.

The only hairy moment was a near miss with an overboil, which happened while I was watching Rita Ora on telly with my little one.

I caught it quickly and managed to cool back down to target mashing temp within seconds, thanks to a strategic drop of ice-cold water. Hopefully, none of the grains will have released any nasties. If they have, it’s Rita’s fault… that’s just How We Do.

I’m aiming for a citrussy, amber summer session ale this time, with Maris Otter and Vienna making up the bulk of the grain bill and a bit of crystal thrown in to add depth and colour.

20140722_112222I was aiming for a post-mash gravity of 1050 and it came out just shy at 1048 – minor niggle.

The hop mix is a blend of high-alpha (16.6) Citra and East Kent Goldings, 50g of the former in at the start, 25g of the latter dropped 20 mins before the end. I’ll add proprietary mix of the two – more EKG than Citra – in secondary.

Dropping the hops is my favourite part of the process. I love the moment they hit the hot, sweet wort and release their fragrant aromas. It leaves the kitchen smelling awesome for hours.

20140722_112344Post-boil, it came out a lovely burnished copper colour, which was sickly-sweet and full of peppery, citrus notes from the stronger of the two hops. Looking forward to seeing how this one develops in the days ahead.

It’s cooling in the sealed kettle, ready for racking into my fermenter and pitching the yeast in the morning.

If it goes the same as last time, and I can leave most of the trub behind in the kettle, it should be another good batch.

Just need to wait a few weeks to drink the damn thing… good thing I’ve got plenty of this one left to cool me down in the sunshine.

(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!

I can see clearly-ish…

Almost a week since bottling and the vast majority of the brew is clearing very nicely indeed.

I managed to fill 37 half-pint bottles in the end, with a half-dozen chilling in the fridge and the rest in a totebox under the stairs.

I’m pleased with the progress of all bar one…..

image

The taller bottle on the right as you view it is typical of the whole batch – quite still and clearing nicely.

The one on the left, however, has a tiny ring of froth at the top and is gently bubbling under the surface. To my mind, it means either a touch too much priming sugar has re-started fermentation… OR… that particular bottle is skunked.

This is my first ever brew and I am far from being an expert, so my questions to all you more experienced homebrewers out there is…

1) Safe or skunked?
2) If skunked, can I use that bottle as a guide as to when the other bottles in the batch have fallen fully clear, or will it behave differently if it has been infected?

As always, all advice from the community welcome and appreciated.

#FF Pint: Gladness, by Growler Brewery

Last Friday was so hectic that I didn’t even have the time to squeeze a real pint in, let alone a virtual one, so I have a doozy for you this week to make amends. Image

Following the theme of my last #FF pint, that is bands which create beer, I bring you Gladness, a rather curious little brew from the Essex-based Growler Brewery, in honour of one of my fave bands of all time – UK ska legends Madness.

I say curious, because they bill it as “a lager, that’s an ale…that’s totally mad.” Brewed as an ale, it uses only lager ingredients and the result is a golden amber beer, with the distinctive floral and malty notes of a lager, but a dry and bitter finish at the end.

At 4.2% ABV, it has an acceptable alcohol content and is, if I dare to describe it in this way, a distinctly British beer.

It’s a bizarre drinking experience, given that it looks like an ale, but it tastes like a lager, albeit with much more taste and body than the common cooking variety. It’s by no means unpleasant, though, and definitely one for the patio, in the sunshine, with a slow-cooked rack of ribs and some chargrilled corn on the cob.

While it’s not readily available in the major chains (certainly in my neck of the woods), a quick search of some of the speciality beer parlours near my place of work unearthed a modest supply and I’m sure the more determined real ale shops around the country can also get hold of some.

So, cheers to all the people who’ve engaged with me on this blog and via Twitter this week and if it’s your first time at the @JonnoBrews bar, don’t be a stranger.

Have a good weekend folks. I’ll leave you with this…