Cloudy with a chance of yeast balls…

20140512_213939Bottled my first batch yesterday, following a couple of weeks in secondary.

It was a leisurely, if time consuming, activity, but I now have 30+ bottles of beer happily conditioning away.

The beer itself hasn’t changed too much since I dropped in the finings. It tastes more or less the same, although perhaps a touch sweeter, but the one thing which has left me a bit puzzled is what has happened to its clarity.

When I racked my sample off last week, it wasn’t perfect, but it was a damn sight clearer than it was when I racked it from primary.

However, since adding finings (gelatine and isinglass), it has gone much murkier than it was. I had been working on the assumption that it should go the other way.

It left a huge puddle of slop at the bottom after syphoning the whole brew off into bottles, so I know a lot of the crap has dropped out of it since adding finings, but I was expecting it to be much clearer.

So, my question to all you more experienced craft brewers out there is: should I be worried about this development (beer tastes fine, just cloudy as a puddle)…and will it clear in the bottle over time?

Interesting post-script is that I can see a definite break in the bottles now, 24 hours on. About half an inch of beer at the top of each bottle is near crystal clear, with the rest underneath cloudy as hell…it was about half a cm when I woke up this morning, so definite progress, but will the rest clear over time?

Over to you, guys, am I on the right track?

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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!

#FF Pint – Build A Rocket Boys

20140427_180836Manic week at work this week, so blogging activity has been a bit sparse around these parts.

However, just enough time to squeeze in a quick #FF pint for all those who have been good enough to engage with me on this blog and on Twitter this week.

It’s Build a Rocket Boys!, a beer brewed exclusively by the band Elbow in support of their album of album of the same moniker.

I’m not a fan of the band – far from it, in fact – but I kind of like the idea of a band-endorsed beer, which reflects their roots, homeland and heritage.

Hailing from Bury, Elbow are very much a product of the home in the heartland of the industrial north.

Brewed by Robinson’s in Stockport, near Manchester, this golden, malty amber beer is a very smooth pint. Not at all unpleasant, but by no means remarkable.

If I was being harsh, I’d say it was a reflection of the band themselves – bland and inoffensive, but lifted by the occasional high note – but it’s the Friday of a Bank Holiday weekend, so I’m not going to be so churlish and instead say that this made a good accompaniment to the roast lamb and mint sauce dinner I drank it with. Not perfect, but a good companion nonetheless.

So, bottoms up guys and thanks for checking out the blog this week. Hope to see you back here soon.

Cheers!

The Name Game

Arrogant Bastard AleOne of the things I love about brewing is the creativity that seeps in at every opportunity – that perfect mix of malts, that carefully chosen yeast strain, that skilful blend of hops which all add little nuances to the end result.

It doesn’t just stop with the final brew. With the best beers, it runs through the entire process, from barrel to glass.

Craft brewers and micros in particular are very creative with their names and branding.

Their beer names often reflect local landmarks or historic incidents.

But if not protected, any other brewer could use the same name, causing confusion or, potentially, damaging reputations.

We looked at this through my day job, as part of a feature on brewing for the magazine I edit. My colleage spoke to a local solicitor – Catherine Slater, partner at Serjeants LLP – who provides specialist advice on the protection and enforcement of trademarks, designs and copyright worldwide, an important consideration for micro breweries.

She said that as well as brewing really good beer, breweries also have a great tradition of coming up with ingenious and often witty names for those beers which further distinguishes them from the offerings of the giant breweries.

However, there has been a trend in the food and drink business for the giant companies to actively try to make their goods look like the offerings of a small, independent business.

If the big breweries ramp up their efforts to try and mimic the presentation of craft beers, it may well lead to more trademark disputes.

“The best way for smaller breweries to prevent such a dispute affecting them is to protect their own branding with trademark registrations in both the UK and internationally for when the time for expansion is right,” she said.

“The rights are then secured and can be used to stop any brewery, no matter how big, using a similar name, logo or strapline.”

On the other side of the beer mat, the Norwich-based brewery Redwell was accused of infringing the trademark rights of the energy drink Red Bull, which said its name was too similar.

Red Bull decided not to proceed with a case, but it’s still a warning shot to micro-breweries that they are not so small that they won’t be scrutinised, making protection vital as well as being a valuable asset for the balance sheet should a buy-out occur further down the line.

Anyway, the point of this post isn’t to get bogged down in heavy legal mumbo-jumbo.

It is to celebrate the creativity of brewers who not only manage to come up with the perfect pint, but then who can come up with a name so ingenius and clever that if you see it on the shelf or behind the bar, your first and only reaction is “Yeah baby, gimme gimme gimme.”

So, with that in mind, here’s my top five:

5) Shut Thi Gob. The Barnsley Brewing Company has a full range of beers with the names spoken in the local vernacular. Bee By Gum, Bobby Dazzler and the delightfully-monickered Ronnie’s Owd Cock are all worthy contenders, but none can hold a light to its signature strong brown ale.

4) Evil Dead Red. Any beer which pays homage to arguably the greatest comedy-horror flick ever committed to celluloid has to be a good thing, right?

3) Arrogant Bastard Ale. “You are what you drink and I’m a bitter man,” or so say The Macc Lads. Can’t really argue with this one…does exactly what it says on the tin.

2) Buster Nut Brown Ale. In the list for two reasons – it’s a nice innuendo, but its also made by the Ska Brewing Company and anything which manages to combine my favourite type of music with my favourite type of drink deserves my utmost respect.

1) Swift One. This pale bitter from Hampshire-based Bowman Ales just nicks top spot for my money. Why? It’s subtle, it’s multi-layered and when you say to your other half “I’m just nipping out for a swift one,” it can mean whatever you want it to.

What’s your favourite beer name? Leave it in the comments below and if it makes me laugh, I’ll send you a virtual pint this Friday.

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…

#FF Pint – Castle Rock Harvest Pale

CC BY 2.0 Smabs SputzerThis will be the first in a series of posts to tip a nod to the good advice of my friends and followers, both here and on Twitter.

The plan is to send a virtual pint, using the #FF hashtag, each week to all those in the homebrew community I have swapped messages, tips, advice and comments with during the week.

As I said the other day, I’ve been blown away by how friendly and welcoming the community has been so far and am looking forward to meeting and tweeting more budding amateur craft brewers along the way.

So, I’m kicking things off with my favourite tipple from my local brewery, Castle Rock.

Harvest Pale is its flagship brew, a delightfully hoppy pale ale with a long, crisp finish. Multi-award winning, it was named Camra’s Champion Bitter of Britain in 2007 and Champion Beer of Britain in 2010.

Although brewed in my home city of Nottingham, using mostly British ingredients, it is the blend of citrussy American hops which give it such a unique flavour. It’s quite a bitter brew compared with some of the other pale ales I’ve tasted, which, in my view, sets it apart and whilst not a winter warmer, there’s no better accompaniment to a sunlit early evening in the beer garden or family barbecue.

If you’ve arrived here via the #FF hashtag, cheers! If not, thanks for checking this blog out and I hope to see you again soon.

The waiting game…

IMG_20140422_203843-148 hours since pitching and the waiting game continues.

Still plenty of carbon dioxide puffing up the lid of my fermenting bin and I can still see clumps of yeast shooting up and dropping down inside.

This time last night, there was a 2cm dense, thick pancake of yeast on top of my wort, which was a dirty, sludgy brown.

Have just checked and the yeast layer has double in size but looks a lot more foamy and the wort is starting to clear. There is a definite layer of crud at the bottom of the bin now, which seems to have grown in the few hours since I got home from work. The wort is much, much clearer than it was yesterday.

The big decision I have to make now is whether or not to rack into a secondary fermenter to complete the process. The recipe says yes, my gut feeling is that things are progressing well and I should leave it be… for now.

A cursory search of t’interweb would suggest that secondary may help give me a clearer finished brew, but is not essential. I’m going to go with my gut on this one.

Brewing is confusing, but I kind of like the conundrums it’s throwing up for me to consider.

One final word – this blog and its Twitter are barely a week old and already, I’ve been overwhelmed by the welcome and support I’ve received from the homebrew/craft brew community so far.

I’ve joined online communities before as a noob and found them insular, unwelcoming and unfriendly temples to enter, but not so here.You guys are such a friendly bunch!

Special mention, in no particular order, must go to Gary at Bionic Brewing, The Apartment Homebrewer, the Homebrew Handyman, @BeerGeekUK, @SussexBrewer and not least @TucsonHooligan (COYR!) and The Happy Homebrewer for your advice, guidance, insight and support this week, it is truly valued and appreciated.

I look forward to sharing experiences and swapping stories in the months ahead.

It’s been a fun week. For now, cheers people.