Friday 29 January 2010

Saturday Brewathon Planned

It's been a quiet couple of weeks on the brew front, largely due to the need to tidy the conservatory in preparation for the Sky engineer who fitted the new HD box in the bedroom yesterday.

In the shed I've got my first lager kit, a Brewferm Gold, lagering away in the brewfridge; it's got another two weeks to do at 11 degrees centigrade and will then be bottled and conditioned at 2 degrees.

My wife's hosiery has again been put to good use in the conservatory, this time holding elderflowers for the Wherry kit tweak. I'm also using Nottingham yeast for the first time so I'm making sure fermentation has definitely finished before I rack it into the bottling bucket.

Haven't decided for sure what I'm going to put on to ferment tomorrow; it is a toss up between Munton's Mexican Cerveza which will be down with a Youngs Lager yeast or the Brewferm Pils kit that I've got a specialist lager yeast in for. Saflager S189 was, apparently, developed by the Hurlimann brewery in Zurich. For the uninitiated Albert Hurlimann was a yeast expert of world renown and is responsible for the world famous Samichlaus doppelbock.

Now, I have no desire to produce a 14% ABV beer but I am keen to see what a specialist yeast can do to what is a pretty decent kit.

The other thing I simply must do is get another Chablis Blush kit on. Four and a half demijons of rose wine ready to drink in seven days. Guaranteed to keep me in my wife's good books.

Wednesday 13 January 2010

First Brews of 2010

My brewing resolution this year is to experiment more with kit brews before possibly moving to all grain brewing later in the year. I say possibly, I'd really like to do it but lack of space and the fact the the full mashers seem to spend a whole day brewing keep putting me off. On the other hand, I'm told that "when I try brewing all grain once, I'll never go back"

The promise of beer ready to drink in half the time of conventional kits, that's streets ahead of anything I've ever tasted in my life before seems hard to resist; but how's a lazy twat like me ever going to get round to it?

In any event, I've decided with my latest brew to experiment with some dry hopping. Avid readers (and anyone else who has been subjected to my written or verbal wibblings) will know that I've fallen in love with the citrus zing associated with the Amarillo hop. So I've borrowed (like she's going to want it back) a stocking from my lovely wife, sterilised it and stuffed it full of 40 grams of amarillo with a stone and a couple of rubber bungs to weigh it down.

As you can see from the (bottom) pic, I need a considerably heavier stone. If you're ever shipwrecked, make sure you've got a sackful of hops close by, you'll never sink!

This one's made it down from 1048 to 1010 in five days meaning it will come out about five and a bit percent. The plan is to give it another five days in the fermenting vessel then rack it in a secondary FV for 2-3 days before bottling, add 85g of brewing sugar then bottle. Ideally it'll then get a week in the conservatory and six weeks in the shed but I bet I start it after four.

The second beer of the year if my first attempt at a lager. Just sometimes lager drinkers can get right on my tits. "Have you got any proper beer?" they'd say to me at barbecues last year without even giving it a try. I gave in and got a case of Becks to shut them up but this year, I'm going to have three or four brews to keep lager boys (and girls) happy.

The first one's in the baby FV now. It's a Brewferm gold kit I've made with Youngs lager yeast and some brewing sugar. As you can see from the top pic it's crusting away quite nicely. It started off about with an OG of 1056 and I'm hoping it'll get down to 1016 which would be about 5.2%. To be honest, going for strength alone is missing the point. I want flavour and balance; I've made some cracking beers around 3.5% and a couple of stinkers at 5-6%.

Got a bit of a busy weekend coming up but I hope to have time to rack the Amarillo IPA so I can get the next one on the go, which will be one of a Brewferm Pils, Coopers European Lager or a Mexican Cerveza, and if anyone dare ask me if I've got any Stella or Becks at my next barbecue they can stick it where the sun don't shine.

Saturday 9 January 2010

Best Homebrewed Beer to go with a Curry?

It is a genuine sadness that, for years, the reputation of the English in an Indian restaurant, beautifully parodied in Goodness Gracious Me, consisted of ordering a million poppodums and a vindaloo or phall washed down with as much lager as humanly possible.

These days the Indian restaurants I've been to have wonderfully delicate balances of flavours and aromatics yet most restaurants serve lager or a lager variant. Now I do like a drop of Bangla but I think ale drinkers could come up with hundreds of beers that would accompany a curry more appropriately.

There are lot of things completely wrong with lager as an accompaniment to spicy food; it is too gassy for a start and, for me, it very often doesn't have enough "cut" and the flavours are rather one dimensional.

For my experiment I made notes of six beers, all of which I brewed myself from kits widely available in local homebrew shops or online. Some were brewed "as is" and some had added ingredients but, for benchmarking purposes, all were drunk with the same curry, a chicken bhuna made with sharwoods bhuna sauce. I had originally thought I would make a curry from scratch but, if you do that, they all turn out a bit differently and, far more importantly, I'm a lazy git and I really couldn't be bothered.

The six beers were:
  1. Woodforde's Great Eastern with Elderflowers (6.25%)
  2. Coopers Aussie Pale Ale (brewed with hopped light spraymalt and golden cane sugar, 6.25%)
  3. Geordie Mild (brewed with Dark Spraymalt & Golden cane sugar, 7%)
  4. Brewferm Abdij (Brewed with dark Candi Sugar) 7%
  5. Coopers IPA with Amarillo hops 5%
  6. Brupaks Scammonden Dark (brewed "as is") 4.2%
The Great Eastern was a lovely beer, light golden in colour and floral in bouquet and a lovely drink it its own right but it just didn't go with the curry. It was too gassy (my fault, I'd not let it ferment out before I bottled it. I suspect the version I'd done before without the elderflowers that had a caramelly finish (I'd drunk the lot by the time it was five weeks old) might have gone better.

I'd nominated the Aussie Pale purely because when I first tasted it, it reminded me of a Bangla, like a lager but a bit maltier. It goes ok with the curry but didn't really rock my world to be honest.

The same could not have been said for the Geordie Mild. As far as I am concerned Mild and Porter styles are born to go with curry, not too gassy, full of winter fruit flavours, subtle enough not to dominate the dish and strong enough to hold it's own. At 37.5 p a pint it was also the cheapest pint in the test.

The Belgian style kits really do need long maturation times. I'd made this one back in August but didn't test it until late October when it was not terribly pleasant at all. However, by December it had really come into its own. The Abdij, a dark abbey style beer went well with the Bhuna although the carbonation was higher than I would have liked.

I'd expected the Indian Pale Ale to go well with Indian food and with the extra Amarillo hops giving it a really citrussy lift I wasn't disappointed. This is one of my favourite brews so far and has a fair chance of becoming my house brew (I've got another one on and I'm dry hopping the Amarillo this time). Carbonation levels were good but not over gassy.

The Scammonden Dark is another example of the excellent Brupaks kits. I brewed this one as per instructions including making a "tea" out of the hop tea bag. It truly pushed the Geordie Mild to the limit and had many of the same characteristics, robust but not overpowering flavour and it did seem to pick out the spices in the curry particularly well.

Ultimately, the Geordie Mild won this battle of the brews; I don't suppose my words will be having restaurateurs galloping off to their nearest micro brewery demanding bottles of mild to go with their curry but if one person who reads this blog tries a mild with their next takeaway it'll be worth it to me.

Friday 8 January 2010

Brewer's OCD

We've all heard about certain ahem, conditions, brought on by alcohol (like Shakespeare said "provokes the desire but takes away the performance" and all that) but I need to bring to your attention a far worse plight to afflict the brewer.

When I restarted brewing last March, my friends on the Home Brewing and Winemaking Forum told me I'd soon be obsessed. I laughed them off but they were right and soon I was brewing beer much faster than I could drink it.

At first I thought it was my "inner nerd" calling me and that I would be the same with any hobby, but this one's different. From September to Christmas when I had to dismantle the brewing paraphernalia and decamp it to the shed, I was brewing at the rate of one brew per weekend. Goodness me I even started making cider and wine (I hate cider). As a result I've had only one pint of shop bought beer in that time (excluding a trip to France when there was obviously no homebrew available).

My "inner nerd" has morphed into full blown OCD and I can't stop brewing. It's got so bad that I've run out of storage space, and I've got 100 empty bottles awaiting the next brew.

Judging by the activity on home brewing forums and anecdotal evidence by all of the home brew shops I've visited, home brewing and winemaking is a burgeoning hobby. Speculation abounds that it's due to the rumours of the government's 50p per unit policy but, whatever the reason, those who dip their toes in wort soon become attracted by its sticky sweetness.

For me it was all about saving money at the start but, as soon as I realised I could brew beer that tasted better than anything I could buy in a supermarket and at a fraction of the price, even cost went out of the window. My worry is that eventually the trend will become so obvious that the government will apply a duty to beer kits, malt, yeast and hops. Now that really would be a sad day.

How Long Before the Shed's Snowed In?

Before I put my beer in my Brewfridges to keep them at a constant 12 deg C, they were coming out of the kegs really flat as all the CO2 was being absorbed. Until it started snowing I had four kegs on the go, two of which were at 12 degrees and therefore had a decent supply of well conditioned beer to last me through the cold snap.

Curses; now my innate laziness has come back to bite me on the bum. I'd taken a keg to my brother in law's for Christmas Day and one to my Father in Law's for Boxing Day. I could have collected them both last weekend but now I'm snowed in and I've only got 20 pints of Scammonden Dark and a couple of pints of stout to keep me going. My main worry is that I won't be able to open the shed door tonight (don't look at me like that Temperance Society, it's a Friday) or, worse still, the shed roof won't be able to take the weight of the snow.

Thursday 7 January 2010

Early tester of Munton's Smugglers Light

Not clear yet, it's only been on the bottle three weeks but the early signs are promising. I've brewed this one long so the ABV came out at 3.66% instead of the 5% it should have done. Another three weeks and it'll be quite decent though, I reckon.

Wednesday 6 January 2010

Constructing a Brewfridge

One of the first things I noticed about brewing in the shed was that the extremes of temperature seem to affect my brew adversely in terms of how long it would take; it would sometimes get "stuck" at a specific gravity of 1018 and take days to shift.

Quite apart from anything else, the extremes of temperature in my rickety old shed, aren't going to lend themselves to conditioning too well either, so I followed some advice on the
Brew it Yourself forum and started constructing a temperature controlled brewing environment.

In principle it's quite a straightforward idea; you use a fridge, a heater and a means of switching them both on and off a degree either side of the specified temperature.

The tube heater in the botton of the fridge.

The fridge I picked up on Freecycle, but the heater and controller were slightly more expensive. The tubular heater can be bought from any online electrical retailer but I would avoid Chemist Direct who took 10 days to deliver mine.

There are a few temperature controllers on the market; I chose one called an ATC800 from a company called Forttex. These are more often used to regulate the temperatures of tropical fish tanks but have applications in brewing also.

The ATC800 controller.

Basically you set a predefined point at which you want your brew toferment (or condition) and wire the fridge and heater into either end of the controller, a probe goes into the fridge. For my current brew (A Woodforde's Wherry) the ideal fermentation temperature is 24 degrees C. So I set the ATC800 to 24, with a 1 degree tolerence either side. The heater comes on until the temperature reaches 24, when the hearter goes off. The temperature continues to rise and when it reaches 25 degrees, the fridge comes on until the temp reaches 24 when it turns off, then when it gets to 23 degrees the heater kicks back in.

Now how's that for service?

Placed my first order with Barley Bottom yesterday; a couple of packets of yeast and some hops. Paul gave me a call today to let me know one of them was out of stock, and did I want something else or wait til next week.

It's a simple thing, but knowing most of your customers like to get a brew on at the weekend is something other online HB retailers could learn from.

Tuesday 5 January 2010

Does it save you money?

I was recently asked the question "have you saved money by brewing your own?" After rather a lot of head scratching I've come up with figures that seem to suggest that I've not actually saved any money but just reappropriated it in the family budget.

This disappointed me initially as the main reason for taking the hobby up in the first place was that I couldn't justify spending £20 a week on bottled beer in Tesco. Now, before all you holier than thou unit counters start tutting, I'm talking about about 12 x 500ml bottles of real ale (none of this fizzy lager pish) and not three cases of cut price Stella; that's enough for a bottle of ale with my dinner each evening and a couple of extras on Friday and Saturday.

That works out at £1040 per year so, if your set up costs and the first year's brewing don't exceed that, you're on a winner, right?

Well, yes, but accurately calculating it is quite another matter. There are a whole load of items you have to factor in:

  1. brewing sugar, or spraymalt

  2. sterilising chemicals

  3. ullage

  4. electricity

  5. carriage charges

Brewing Sugar

If you brew using a 3Kg (two can kit) you'll only need sugar for priming (secondary fermentation) and ordinary household sugar (preferably cane) if perfectly ok for this and you'll only need between 85 and 100g for this deopending on how fizzy you like your beer so the cost is negligible.

However if you prefer the single can kits (1.5-1.8 kg) you'll need to add anything from 800g to 1.5Kg or fermentable. This may be cane sugar, brewing sugar or spray dried malt (spraymalt). Spraymalt comes in Light, medium and dark varieties which are either hopped or not. You can also use honey, treacle, golden syrup etc. I generally use golden cane caster sugar (about £1.30 a kilo), brewing sugar (£2 a kilo) dissolves more easily somne believe it gives a cleaner taste to lagers but I've never brewed a lager so couldn't tell you. In some darker brews I use dark spraymalt (£3.99 for 500g) and in the Geordie Kits I use their Beer Kit Enhancer which is 50% brewing sugar and 50% spraymalt (£5 a kilo).

Sterilising Chemicals

Most brewers use VWP a cleaner/sanitiser but I've never used it so can't comment. I personally favour soda crystals for cleaning and sterilising tablets like the ones you use in baby bottle kits. I think they're around 80p for 54 tablets in Tesco but you'll need 5 of them every time you sterilise a fermenting vessel.


Most kits are rated at a 40 pint or 23 litre brewlength yet one rarely gets the full 40 pints out of the kit. A little is lost when syphoning into the bottles/keg/bottling bucket and the last bit of the keg can be notoriously difficult to get out. And, of course there's always the odd cheeky snifter. I typically get 20 x 1 litre bottles out of a 40 pint kit which equates to about 36 pints.


The last one is really tricky to sort out and frankly I don't even want to think about it with 2 x fridges, 2 x tube heaters and lights and brewbelts all using up the juice in the shed.

Carriage Charges

Simple for this one - don't pay 'em. If you have a local Home Brewing Shop, use and support it. Take advantage of their expert knowledge and save yourselves up to £7 in carriage. Alternatively, most online shops offer free carriage for orders over £60, so stock up, plan your brews in advance. All brewers should have a rolling stock and am empty fermenting vessel is a heinous crime indeed.

So, having heeded all of the above, have I saved money. Well not quite. An inventory of the brewing equipment reveals I've spent £367 on equipment and £460 on beer kits. I've brewed 996 pints of beer (give or take) at an average price of 83p a pint. So, between March and Christmas (I'd like to think I've got enough to last until then) I've spent £827; during the same period I would have spent £780 on shop bought beer (39 weeks @ £20). However the home brew also supplied three rather large parties in the summer saving me a minimum of £30 per time on shop bought beer. Therefore by my rudimentary mathematics I'm just shy of fifty quid in front.

All of this, of course, is rather missing the point. How many hobbies give you ANY return on investment at all AND give you this much pleasure. Hmm thought not....

The Joy of Brewing

A little bit of Sean's brewing history for you.

I first brewed on beer in the early 1980's. It wasn't intended to be that way; my mother bought my father a homebrew starter kit from Boots and then the Royal Navy decided to send him to the Falklands so I decided I'd brew it for him in his absence. Quite how much was left when he came back from deployment I can't say for sure but I did a few brews without much success and forgot about it until last year when financial hardship caused me to look at the amount I was spending on beer.

Now before the temperance society starts to look down its nose at me, I should point out that we're not talking about three cases of beer for £20 from a supermarket here. We talking about £20 worth beer bottled in 500ml bottles, sometimes bottle conditioned, sometimes not. However the thought of eschewing a pint after work in the comfort of my own home in favour of fruit tea (not that there's anything at all wrong with fruit tea - it's just not a pint isn't it) was just too much to bear.

So I looked at t'internet and I saw wonderful things. I saw that beer kits had come on a long way in 25 years; part of my reticence to return to kit brewing was the fact that my brews of the early 80's just weren't that good. Then I read some forums and realised that, a bit like a curry sauce from the early 90's wasn't all that compared to what can be bought today, so kits appeared to have improved also.

After about eight weeks mandatory procrastination (I'm quite good at this) I bit the bullet and broke out the credit card and bought a starter kit. The rest, as they say, is history. That was in March, 35 brews ago.