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.

#FF Pint – Rhatas, by Black Dog Brewery, Whitby…

black-dogThe mythical Black Dog holds a prominent place in old English folklore. There are regional – but similar – variations of this muscular, spectral lupine beast with long, sharp fangs and glowing red eyes, which preys on weary travellers.

Arguably, the most famous of all is the Barghest of Whitby, which, it is said, roams the North Yorkshire moors surrounding the once-thriving whaling port. Legend has it that any poor soul who should hear the beast’s blood-curdling cries in the night will certainly be dead by dawn.

Whilst literature is scattered with references to the black dog in everything from Sherlock Holmes to Harry Potter, the legend of the Barghest was perhaps made most famous in the pages of Dracula, which Bram Stoker found inspiration for while staying in the fishing resort in 1890.

Stoker, it is said, was quite smitten with the atmosphere of the town – the red roofs, the network of dark alleyways and ginnells, the eerie abbey, the church with its tombstones and even the bats flying around many of its darker corners.

The author is believed to have stayed in the town’s Royal Hotel, which sits imposingly atop the West Cliff. From there, he would have had a prime view across the town and the harbour to the older East side, in the shadow of the ruins of Whitby Abbey, which sits at the top of 199 stone steps which wind up into the cliffs from the cobbled streets below.

It’s the vantage point from which Stoker described how Dracula first arrived on our shores.

In the form of a black dog, the mythical vampire was stowed on a Russian schooner heading for London, which berthed on the coast off Whitby. He descended the vessel in darkness and climbed the 199 stones steps to the Abbey, where he came upon his first victim in the graveyard.

I mention this, because I was in Whitby with my ladies yesterday for a family day out and whenever we visit this amazing seaside resort, my thoughts often turn to the supernatural tales which are linked with it.

I’ve loved a good ghost story ever since I was a child, when my Grandad, a true ranconteur, would sit in his armchair on a Saturday afternoon and, in a fug of cigarette smoke, regale my sister and I with the spooky stories he had picked up from his travels with the Royal Navy during the war and the Merchant Navy after it.

Most involved a drink or two, but then they are kind of the best stories anyway, aren’t they?

But I digress…

We eventually left for home yesterday at around 9.30pm, after an action-packed day of crabbing, arcades, shopping and walking, all rounded-off by a famous Whitby Ghost Walk – which sated my need for all things supernatural – before heading out of the town and into the moors on our way home.

It was that strange time of day when dusk was turning to night. The sky was an amazing dark amber and the hot and humid conditions had conspired with the brisk sea breeze to create a mist which descended over the barren expanses of scrubland on either side of the winding road on which we were travelling.

The car was full of chat and laughter as we recounted the day and the experiences we’d had when I saw, in the distance and almost imperceptible at first, two bright red beacons on the road ahead, which seemed to be getting closer as we continued on our way.

Was it a car? Must have been, although we’d not seen a single other vehicle since leaving Whitby. The mist had by now turned into a fog as thick as felt and all I could see up ahead were the two, burning red lights getting closer and closer. I’m normally a rational person, but I slowed the car, wound up the window and turned up the radio to drown out the noises outside, just in case.

All the time, the lights were getting closer… it couldn’t have been, could it?

Paranormal goings-on are not the only thing Whitby is famous for, which brings me to the main point of this post. It also does great fish and chips – the UK’s best, in fact.

There aren’t many more culinary pleasures which can top this seaside staple – a foodie experience which is never better than when you’re sat by the harbour, the water gently lapping the walls, seagulls circling noisily over your head, spooning vinegar-soaked chips and freshly caught fish into your mouth with a little wooden fork. It’s perfection.

Black DogUnfortunately, with the prospect of a two-and-a-half hour drive home around the corner, I had to settle for a diet coke to wash down my meal.

Had I not been driving, I would have partaken in a pint of this.

Dark Ruby in colour and steeped in some of the spookier elements of Whitby’s history, this is one Black Dog whose howls I wouldn’t mind heeding.

The brewery had been operating in the town for many years, but ceased trading in 2001.However, in 2006, a local farmer acquired its equipment and recipes and relaunched it in a bid to keep the tradition going.

I’ve raised a couple of queries about my own brewing methods this week and once again, the homebrew community has been very generous with its insight, guidance and support.

So, here is a virtual pint of Black Dog Rhatas to the following fellow homebrewers who have helped me along the way this week…

Cheers guys. Just don’t look into its eyes…

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…

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.

So, why am I doing this?

As I said in my maiden post to launch this blog, the main reason I’ve decided to finally take the plunge – after years of umming and ahhing – and brew my first batch is because it’s always been in me.

My grandad (RIP xx) – a real role model to me growing up – was born into a long line of brewers and although it skipped a couple of generations, the stories he told me when I was growing up planted a seed in my head that is finally flowering.

I’ll tell his story another day, but it’s safe to say, his influence looms large.

The real trigger, the epiphany, the why now? moment, came during a chance conversation with a colleague about the story we were working on for our business magazine, In Business, just a few weeks ago.

When I told him about my family line, he just said “so why aren’t you brewing then?” and he was right. So I’m taking the plunge.

You can read that article here. It’s fascinating (if I say so myself!), gives great insight into the brewing sector in the place I live and highlights just what can be built from small beginnings.

It was the kick up the arse that I needed. I’ve thought about it long enough. Now I’m going to do it.

Cheers, People!

Counting down the hours…

wpid-20140417_193104.jpgFour whole days off work, thanks to the Easter Bank hols here in the UK, so plenty of time to get my first brew on.

I’ve amassed the kit – save for one small, but hopefully not too vital – piece of equipment and went on an ingredient raid this lunchtime.

The lovely lady at the Love Brewing store in Chesterfield was extremely patient with me and my noob questions, even though they are in the process of moving premises. I came away with a sparging bag and the following:

  • 5(ish) kilos of Maris Otter
  • 500g Crushed Crystal
  • 17g target hops
  • 8g Challenger hops
  • 8g Northdown hops
  • 11g East Kent Goldings
  • Some Mangrove Jack Craft Series yeast – M10 (Workhorse) – a good all -rounder, by all accounts.
  • Plus a few other sundries.

The advice I’ve had from The Apt Homebrewer, The Homebrew Handyman and Bionic Brewing has been gratefully recieved and I’m (hopefully) good to go.

I’m aiming for a simple British bitter of around 5% ABV for my first brew and should have no problems achieving that from the above. I sound like I know what I’m talking about, but I really don’t, but I’m looking forward to the journey.

Whatever happens with this brew, I’ll go from there. And I’ll post the results (good or otherwise).

Cheers, people!