Thursday 29 December 2011

Why I'm Not Opening a Brewery Any Time Soon

It's a question I'm often asked, and I was asked again when I was interviewed by the local paper for this story. "Would you like to do it for a living?"

Quite apart from not being good enough, I love the way people assume there's little or no difference between a hobby and a professional operation; then there's the current economic climate which is hardly conducive to new business development. Yet there are new breweries opening up every month it seems. In Kent alone, the number of breweries (including brewpubs) has doubled in the last two years. 

Yet we are constantly hearing that pubs are closing at an alarming rate. So, let me work this out for a moment. You've got more manufacturers competing in a shrinking market. Where are these breweries going to sell their beer?

Seriously, I can see a saturation point arriving in the not too distant future.

I work in the healthcare industry for a company that sells medical consumables to care homes. We're are not unique in what we do but we succeed because we have what, in management speak is known as a USP or a unique selling proposition. If you have a USP you do not have to deal on price; this is expressed much more eloquently by Tandleman and Hardknott Dave on their respective blogs. How many of these breweries have a USP? How many of these breweries will still be trading this time next year?

So unless you have your USP you are competing in an increasingly competitive marketplace where price and progressive beer duty are your only weapons, you've then got transportation costs, casks to buy (and more importantly get back from the pubs) and late payers to deal with. 

So, if you could cut out the transportation costs, cask issues and late payers, all you've really got to come up with is a point of difference; whether that is in cask, keg or bottle, it is possibly viable. Yup, I'd bodyswerve a new brewery but a small scale brewpub, in the right location, I'd jump at (if I had the readies).

Friday 23 December 2011

Beers I'd Like to Brew in 2012

Given my travails with infection over the past year, I guess the short answer is most of the ones I've buggered up in 2011 but there's more to it than that. 

During my home brewing odyssey I've developed a love of stouts partly, it has to be said, because they appear to be the only beer I can't ruin. I think a lot of it has to do with the water here in East Kent which suits stouts perfectly; when I was doing water chemistry (which I can't be bothered with until I've sorted out my infection woes) I barely had to change my liquor at all. 

I've been inspired by Bristol Brew Co's 12 stouts of Christmas (none of which I've tried) and it has occurred to me that it could end up like the shrimp scene from Forrest Gump; Oatmeal Stout, Toasted Oatmeal Stout, Imperial Stout, Coffee Stout, Vanilla Stout, Bourbon Stout, Vanilla Bourbon Stout, Coffee Vanilla Bourbon Stout.... und so weiter. 

So Coffee and Vanilla (separate) stouts are on the menu for next year and I might get round to ageing some on oak chips soaked in bourbon. 

I'll also be revisiting the Red Spider Rye and #IPADay recipes as I think these are cracking recipes I never got to drink because of my dirty downpipe (ooh matron). One thing I'll probably not be doing is bottling much. I'm fed up with it; it is a complete ball ache and I love my cornies too much. 

Wednesday 21 December 2011

West Coast Stella Mark 2 Recipe

It's a little early to re-evaluate the recipe for a beer which hasn't even had time to condition yet, but I just can't help myself. 

The beer needs a slightly higher alcohol level to balance out the hops and, I think, some caramalt or light crystal to add a little more colour and body. 

To compensate for the extra alcohol, I've upped the late hops by 10g.

Grain Bill (based on 70% efficiency 19L brewlength)

5.5kg Maris Otter
450g Carapils
450g Caramalt
450g Aromatic

10g Stella (16%AA) FWH
10g Stella @ 30mins
15g Stella @ 20 mins
15g Stella @ 10 mins

Protofloc @ 5 mins
US-05 Yeast

Sunday 18 December 2011

A Year in Home Brewed Beer

December is traditionally a time to reflect on one's performance over the preceding 12 months; we see reviews of the year, sports personality of the year, record of the year, golden pints and so on. This year is my first full year of all grain brewing so, while the "Gone for a Burton" is mashing in, I thought I'd take the time to review the beers I've brewed in a chronological order, work out which were the best, share with you the (sadly large) list of failures and, in true Nick Hornby blokey listing fashion, rank them in a top ten. I appreciate that reviewing my own beers does seem rather self indulgent but, on the other hand, doing it in this way, allows me to see the errors of my ways so, hopefully, other home brewers can benefit as well. 


I started off on New Year's Day by making a St Petersburg Clone, complete with Peat Smoked Malt and Sorachi hops. In all honesty the version I did in October had better balance (this one had too much smoked malt flavour although they followed an identical recipe) and a lovely mouthfeel. It's one of my favourite beer styles, even though this example isn't the best ever. However it did improve throughout the year. This example was bottled, I'm not sure a keg version would be as good. 5/10

The weekend of the 29th January must have been a busy one because, according to the brew diary, I did two brews in one day. One was Starvation Point smoked porter and the other was a Whispering Bob. This was the initial incarnation of the Starvation Point; I did slightly different versions later in the year. Again, as with the St Petersburg, the porter benefited for some ageing. 6/10.

Whispering Bob was a different story, I quickly realised that I'd hit upon a winning combination with the grain bill when I made it the previous year. It's basically a combination of carapils, aromatic, crystal and pale malts. Combine that with US-05 and you've got a platform for hops like Simcoe and Amarillo to really shine through. 8/10


Just the one brew this month but it was a parti-gyle brew. I took my basic Whispering Bob recipe and did a strong beer using T-58 instead of US-05. The small beer I did with Sorachi and Citra instead of Amarillo and Simcoe (but used US-05). From memory the T-58 version took an age to come into condition but when it did, the yeast seemed to accentuate the caramel notes of the malts. The Sorachi Citra was unbelievably sharp until the hops died down about three months later.  T-58 7/10 Sorachi Citra 6/10.


Just the one brew in March too. This was an English Pale Ale I did for Easy Home Brew in Ashford; the idea was to release it as a full mash kit but nothing came of it in the end, still it was a decent beer and one I did later in the year to good effect. 7/10


Looking back on the brew diary I can see that this is when the infections started coming. At first I assumed it was due to water because it only seemed to be affecting my pale beers but I'm pretty sure it is down to poor sanitation in the tubing exiting the boiler. South Pacific a pale beer hopped with Green Bullet, Pacific Gem and Nelson Sauvin - straight down the drain. 0/10 However the Starvation Point porter was a completely different story. I did two versions of this with the kegged one being matured for three months over bourbon soaked oak chips. Bottle 6/10 Keg 7/10. I also had another attempt at the South Pacific but, although it made it as far as the bottle, it was also undrinkable. 0/10

This was my first attempt a mild for May. Sarah Hughes Dark Ruby Mild. Apart for using too much crystal malt, I now suspect this has some kind of infection, or at least a very strange back taste. The reason for this is that I over pitched a second batch of Easy Home Brew EPA straight onto the trub, this gave a very odd straw taste not dissimilar to a Belgian Farmhouse ale. I called it my unintentional lambic. Dred Penguin observed that if I'd called it a Belgian Farmhouse Ale rather than an EPA I'd be considered a "bloody genius". If I liked Belgian Farmhouse Ale it would have got more than the 2/10 I'm giving it. The SHDRM also gets a 2/10


June was a better month by far with three brews, none of which were infected. First up with my first attempt at a Red Rye Ale, I called it Double A because I used Apollo and Amarillo hops.  I sneakily chucked a handful of Simcoe hops in the dry hop. Amarillo and Simcoe are pretty much the best hop combo I've come up with this year. 8/10

The Oatmeal Stout recipe I lifted from the Beer Smith website has rapidly become a staple brew; I've brewed it four times now but I've given up bottling it as most of them seem to gush even if I under prime. 7/10

Possibly the best of the lot was the Horsebridge Imperial Stout Again I lifted the recipe from Beer Smith before adding Dark Muscovado sugar and Carafa 1. This was bottled in 58 Budweiser bottles and many of them given away to friends who seemed to like it. 9/10.


Only two of the three July brews were drinkable with the IPADay brew going the way of the drain. 0/10. 

The other two were tweaked versions of my first attempt at a Rye Ale - but this time with Cascade and Centennial instead of Apollo and Amarillo. This one had some funny stuff growing in the fermenter so I kegged it quick to get it under CO2. It tasted ok but not a patch on the double A version. 5/10

Probably the best of the three was an elderflower infused version of the Easy Home Brew Pale ale which we ended up calling Elders and Betters. I swapped out the Fuggles for Bobek and added 80g of locally grown Elderflowers 15 minutes from the end of the boil. This was brewed for a mate's party and must have gone well because they drunk one and a half cornies worth. 7/10.


Because I was in Ireland and working at Easy Home Brew for most of August there was only the one (double) batch of Oatmeal Stout made which tasted exactly the same as the previous version so gets a 7/10.


This month I managed a crack at a lower abv Whispering Bob for another party and what became known as School Night Ordinary Bitter. This was partly motivated by the need for a session beer (I hang my head in shame) and partly to use up old ingredients. The Saaz and Cascade combo was interesting but the whole beer had a slightly sharp taste. 4/10. The Whispering Bob that came out about 4.5% again went in a single evening, yes it was some party in case you were wondering. 7/10.


October (and the beginning of November) saw my greatest disasters. First of all my HLT broke when brewing Ringwood Old Thumper with Clokey74 so we didn't acheive the sugar conversion in the mash which meant we were about 2% ABV light, then the whole brew got infected anyway. 0/10.


I had such high hopes for Red Spider Rye but that went the way of the drain but I think it is a good recipe so I'll be brewing it again in the New Year. 0/10. The Styrian Pale was a step in the right direction inasmuch as it wasn't infected. However whether it was because I used amber malt instead of crystal S33 instead of S04 or just that my boil was weak, I just can't seem to get it to clear. Tastes ok though. 5/10.


Having established that the cause of my infections is 95% likely to dirty tubing, with other possible causes being brewing in the shed itself or a dodgy yeast split. The first two brews in December are coming along nicely. The most recent Oatmeal is the best yet, possibly due to the inclusion of 20g Willamette in the dry hop but most likely due to the fact I'm just so relieved to get a drinkable beer. I was going to give it 8/10 but perhaps the dry hop is only worth half a mark. 7.5/10. 

Perhaps what might turn out to be the best beer might have to be saved until next year. The West Coast Stella tastes pretty insane at the moment. I'm not going to score it because it has only been in the keg 24 hours and it hasn't had the opportunity either to clear or develop.


Probably the most important lesson to learn here is "Keep It Clean"; think how much more lovely beer I'd have if only I'd followed that maxim. So, to the top ten, in time honoured tradition in reverse order.

10. Starvation Point Smoked Porter (Bottled)
9. Whispering Bob with T-58
8. Standard Oatmeal Stout
7. Easy Home Brew EPA
6. Elders and Betters (with Styrians & Elderflowers)
5. Starvation Point Smoker Porter (with bourbon oak)
4. Oatmeal Stout (w/Willamette)
3. Double A Red Rye
2. Whispering Bob (Original)
1. Horsebridge Imperial Stout

Saturday 17 December 2011

This Weekend's Brew - Gone for a Burton (again)

I did this beer about 18 months ago, according to my brew diary it was my second ever all grain brew. Didn't really know what I was doing but it tasted ok so I thought I'd revisit it on the basis that I have a better idea now. 

This version will use Burtonised water but not Burton yeast because I don't have any. It was a toss up between Ringwood and Irish Ale, Ringwood won because I had 4 bottles of it. The recipe is a little unusual as it calls for 500g of dark muscovado sugar, I'm not really sure why the recipe calls for it but I've decided to include it in my tweaks. 

I've got some Burton Water crystals to add to the mash but I've not no mash ph strips to test the mash ph so I've no idea how much to add. I'm going to add a level teaspoon and hope for the best. 

As I write the water is prepared (36L and a crushed campden tablet), the grain weighed out and the starter (two lots of Ringwood) has been prepared. I'm going to pop this in the brewfridge and set to 23C overnight to make sure it gets going. All I need to remember is to set the timer on the boiler so I can get up at 7, mash in then go back to bed for an hour. That way I can be all cleaned up by lunchtime, or at least before I lose the light. 

I've taken the opportunity to do something that I should have done donkeys years ago; properly calibrate my boiler. If I shine a spotlight from the other side of the boiler the levels show up quite nicely.

Recipe is as follows:


5kg Maris Otter Pale Malt
500g Crystal Malt
500g Dark Muscivado Sugar


25g EKG (FWH 5.5%AA) 
38g Northdown (FWH 7.2%AA)
20g Fuggles (5.2%AA) @ 20 mins from end
20g EKG @ 10 mins from end
25g Fuggles dry hop

Protofloc @ 5 mins

2 x starter of Wyeast #1187 Ringwood Ale. 

West Coast Stella - An update

I've just kegged the pale ale which I single hopped with Stella hops last week. As befits the homebrewer I've had a sneaky taste out of the fermenter. I definitely got a hint of passion fruit/mango out of the beer. 

The beer has fermented out to 1006 giving an ABV of around 6.3%. I've dry hopped it with a further 20 grams of Stella and it's under 40psi of CO2 for a week, or until I give in to temptation. 

Brewing in the conservatory also seems to have eradicated the issues with infection I've been having so I guess it is down to fresh air if it isn't raining and conservatory with the door open if it is.

Saturday 10 December 2011

New Hop Variety - Stella

I had the good fortune to be supplied a sample pack of Stella, a new variety of hop grown in Australia. According to the Hop Products Australia website Stella is: 
".. a new aroma variety which contributes hoppy and floral notes, with subtle hints of anise and a satisfying fullness of palate. Stella is reminiscent of, yet distinctly different in character to noble European varieties, and provides a contrast to the citrus and tropical fruit characters of many modern hops.
Stella grows vigorously, producing moderately large, dense cones which mature mid- to late-season, with a broad harvest window helping to ensure excellent physical and chemical quality in the final product.
With an alpha acid content of ~15%, Stella is an aroma hop with options. This newly developed aroma hop deserves experimentation – the hoppy characters and texture on the palate would provide a new twist to a pilsner or lager, while the floral characters could provide a highlight in a wide range of beer styles."

The arrival of of Antipodean hops on these shores owes much to the craft beer explosion in the US that has spread like an aromatic plague on this side of the pond. Demand for signature Stateside varieties like centennial, amarillo, simcoe, columbus from the big boys and micros alike have left the hop merchants uttering the phrase "rarer than rocking horse shit" to the home brew shops who ring up hoping for the odd 5 kg bale to sell to the growing army of home brewers. 

With the 2011 US harvest only beginning to arrive in the last month or so, brewers have been turning to New Zealand and, increasingly, Australia for their houblon fix. Galaxy and this one, Stella, are two of the varieties beginning to appear in some of the more progressive breweries. I've recently had an example of a Galaxy beer at a commercial brewery that, frankly, blew me away.

I'm going to try this as a single hop beer so I can get a full sense of the hop. I'll be using the standard base of 90% Pale Malt, and 5% each carapils and aromatic malt. I'll be bittering it to 50-ish IBU and aiming for a 5% ABV.

Late hops-wise there'll be 20g going in at flame out and another 20g going in the dry hop.Yeast will be US-05. 

Sunday 27 November 2011

Sneaky Kitchen Brew

Realised this weekend that if I don't get a brew on soon, I'll be knackered for Christmas beers. The problem for me is that I have a broken HLT and an issue with infection. I've slowly been replacing my kit and have narrowed down the issue to contaminated yeast starters and/or tubing.

I've replaced the cold side tubing on my boiler with new sanitised tube and I've used my last packet of dried yeast which happens to be an S33. According to the information on the Fermentis site S33 is:

A very popular general purpose yeast, displaying both very robust conservation properties and consistent performance.  This  yeast produces superb flavour profiles and is used for the production of a varied range of top fermented special beers (Belgian type wheat beers, Trappist, etc.).  Sedimentation: medium.  Final gravity: high.    Also recommended for bottle-conditioning of beers.  Excellent performance in beers with alcohol contents of up to 7.5% v/v but can ferment up to 11.5% v/v. 

Quite how this will come out in an English Pale Ale made with Styrians, I'm not quite sure but there's only one way to find out. 

Grain Bill

4.5kg Maris Otter Pale Malt
250g Amber Malt
250g Carapils


Bobek 5.2%AA 30g FHW
Bobek 5.2%AA 25g @ 30 mins
Bobek 5.2%AA 10g @ 20 mins
Bobek 5.2%AA 10g @ 10 mins
Bobek 5.2%AA 25g @ Flame Out

Thursday 10 November 2011

Brewing Al Fresco

A couple of times last summer it was simply too hot to brew in the shed so I decided to make the most of the patio and brew there. We don't seem to have held any of our annual parties this year (slapped wrists) which means that nobody (i.e. me) has cleared up the patio.

Once I had the boiler, HLT and mash tun set up, the advantage of shorter power cables and hoses (I have to run both down to the shed which is a bit of a pain in the bum) was immediately clear. However this advantage is slightly offset by the number of wasps that soon developed a taste for my sweet wort. On balance, it is something I will certainly do again given a good weather forecast.

It's made me think about a number of modifications I need to make for the brewery, first among them to get some kind of extractor fan set up in the shed but, ultimately, I'd like to get some kind of proper power and water feeds down there. Mind you, if I made it too comfy, I'd probably never come out. 

Monday 7 November 2011

Beer Porn - Oatmeal Stout and SNOB

Before I emptied the cornie last weekend I thought I'd take a pic of the only two beers I have on draught at the moment.  

On the left we have Oatmeal Stout, 4.8%ABV and as smooth as you like, thanks to some Carafa I. The other one is School Night Ordinary Bitter (or SNOB for short). This one was a "use up the ingredients" sort of brew and ended up being a flavour combo of Saaz and Cascade. It's slightly sharp and I've probably used too much Cascade and not enough Saaz but I'll have another go at it before too long, possibly with some Styrians. 

The idea behind the SNOB was to have something around the 3.8% mark but it fermented out at 1.006 which meant in ended up being 4.2%. 

Sunday 6 November 2011

Red Spider Rye

I've been planning this one for quite a while. I've done a couple of these before, one with Amarillo and Apollo (Double A) and one with Centennial and Columbus (Double C). 

I wanted to save the Amarillo to use with something else, so I've gone with Centennial, Columbus and Cascade for the late and dry hopping and Green Bullet and Columbus for the bittering.

Recipe details

Batch size19L
Expected OG 1070
Expected ABV 7%
Bitterness 73 IBU


3.50 kg Pale Malt, Maris Otter (5.9 EBC) Grain
1.00 kg Munich Malt (25.0 EBC) Grain
0.75 kg Rye Malt (Pale) (4.0 EBC) Grain
0.30 kg Aromatic Malt (150.0 EBC) Grain
0.30 kg Cara-Pils/Dextrine (3.9 EBC) Grain
0.29 kg Carared (50.0 EBC) Grain
0.08 kg Caramalt (24.0 EBC) Grain

10.00 gm Columbus (Tomahawk) [17.90 %] (60 min)(First Wort Hop)
20.00 gm Green Bullet [13.60 %] (60 min) (First Wort Hop) 

Boil Ingredients

30 min 25.00 gm Cascade [5.50 %] (30 min) 
20 min 10.00 gm Columbus (Tomahawk) [17.90 %] (20min)
10 min 10.00 gm Centennial [10.00 %] (10 min) 
5 min 1.00 items Protofloc (Boil 5.0 min) 


Wyeast Labs #1056

Dry hops 

15.00 gm Centennial [10.00 %] (Dry Hop 3 days) 
15.00 gm Columbus (Tomahawk) [17.90 %] (Dry Hop 3 days)

When Infection Strikes

I've had more and more of the dreaded infections over the past few brews so I've decided that radical action is required. The six fermenters I've been using since I re-started brewing in 2009 have clocked up more than 80 brews between them. No surprise then, that when I inspected them they are scratched to buggery. 

Where brewing is concerned, scratches are BAD. Infections can lurk unmoved by boiling, scrubbing or any amount of disinfectant, it would appear. So, this time I've opted to replace my fermenters one by one, dating them, naming them and calibrating them before use. 

In my brew diary spreadsheet, I've now added a column to include which numbered FV I've brewed them in. This way when an infection strikes, I can chuck out a fermenter and eliminate that from the causes. 

So what are the other causes? Well, basically, anything that is not sanitised. In the past I've identified dirty airlocks, little bottler taps, syphons. If you're not sure, chuck them out because replacing all of these still work out less than the cost of chucking a brew down the drain. 

Thursday 20 October 2011

The Joy of Turbo Cider

Called turbo because you don't have to grow the apples, turbo cider or TC is one of the easiest steps into the world of home brewing and winemaking. You could say it is the home brewing version of growing mustard and cress. The equipment required is minimal and the ingredients are dirt cheap. I make two strengths of TC; Vagrant's Delight and Park Bench Reserve which come out at between 6 and 8.5% respectively.

To make a gallon of the stuff you need the following:

1 x Demijohn
1 x bung and airlock
Sterilising tablets (milton etc)
5 x value apple juice (the cheaper the better)
1 x cider or champagne yeast
1 x syphon tube
4 x tonic water bottles
household sugar for priming

These items are handy but not absolutely necessary

1 x hydrometer
250g brewing sugar for the Park Bench Reserve
1/2 cup of stewed black tea (to replace tannins lost by missing apple skins).

The method is easy enough: 

  1. Sterilise the demijohn, rinse so you can't smell bleach any more then pour in 4 of the five cartons of apple juice. 
  2. For Park Bench Reserve, add the 250g of brewing sugar (you can use household but you will find brewing sugar dissolves more easily and doesn't affect the taste) and give it a bit of a shake. Add the stewed (black) tea if you want to.
  3. Take original gravity with the hydrometer if you're bothered about knowing how strong it will be. It's worth tying some cotton around the tip of the hydrometer so you can pull it out of the demijohn (I didn't and it was a right bastard to get out) 
  4. Add cider or champagne yeast, fit bung and airlock 
  5. Half fill airlock with cooled boiled water and leave for a week somewhere around 20C is ideal, after about 24 hours you'll start to hear the soothing sound of the airlock "plipping"; very therapeutic.
  6. On day five (or when the bubbles in the airlock have subsided) remove the bung and airlock and add the fifth carton of apple juice.
  7. Leave another three or four days and then take the final gravity (you're looking for a reading of 1.000 or lower, remaining stable for a 48 hour period).

Once you've reached this stage you have choices. Prefer still cider? You can syphon it into a second demijohn. Want it fizzy? In that case you sterilise the four tonic water bottles, then add a level teaspoon of household sugar to each bottle for priming; this is the period of secondary fermentation where the last of the yeast present in suspension will convert to a very small amount of alcohol and, mainly, CO2.

Once you've primed your bottles, cap and gently invert them to mix the priming sugar then leave in a warm place (not the airing cupboard) for a week before leaving somewhere cooler for 3-4 weeks to condition. 

Fizzy cider made this way will throw a sediment to, when you open the bottle, best to decant into a jug. Alternatively you can use 500ml diet coke bottles but halve the amount of priming sugar.

Calculating the ABV%.

This is best done by using the readings from your hydrometer. You'll have made a note of your OG (original gravity) and your final gravity. Then simply put the values into here and adjust the temperature reading to 20c. Typically, apple juice without added sugar will read about 1.042 on a hydrometer and will ferment out to about .998 which will give you about 6% whereas the addition of 250g of brewing sugar takes the OG up to the 1.060 region. 

The cider does improve with age so, by all means get another batch on as soon as your demijohn is free. A word of warning though, Turbo Cider does have remarkable knicker elastic loosening properties but, guys, don't get excited because it will also make your cock drop off.*

*The last statement may be a lie

Thursday 15 September 2011

South Street Ordinary Bitter

I want a decent ordinary bitter, around the 4% mark that I can have a couple of pints of on a school night and still be able to fill in the old mileage return afterwards. I also want to use existing ingredients because money's a bit tight and I only want a cornie's worth.

I've had a bit of a dig around in the freezer (and BeerSmith) and I've come up with this:

19L Brew length

Esitimated IBU 35
Estimated Colour 16 EBC
Estimated ABV 3.94%

Grain Bill

2.6 kg Maris Otter
250g Crystal
250 Torrefied Wheat
150 Crystal Wheat Malt

Hop Additions

25g Northdown (7.2%) 90 min
10g Cascade (5.5%) 30min
30g Saaz (4%) 15min

Starter of 1056 Wyeast American Ale

20g Cascade Dry Hop 

Monday 12 September 2011

Collaboration Recipe Honey Wheat Beer

Here's the thing, my friend Phil has harvested his honey and we're going to make a Honey Wheat beer. Here's the next thing; I've not a clue what I'm doing. My last Wheat beer was infected and it is a style I hardly ever drink but then I drank a Lovibonds Gold Reserve. It's a honey wheat beer, not especially cloudy but one of the only beers I've ever consumed where you can actually taste the honey. 

And there's the problem with a honey beer, if you want the flavour to come through you have to take a risk. Honey harbours loads of wild yeasts so, unless you add it to the beer in the boil, the likelihood of an infected beer is increased. Of course if you add it to the boil, the flavour is largely boiled off. I'm prepared to take a risk (it is only a 19L batch after all) and add it to the beer after the initial fermentation has died down.

But, all I've got as far as a recipe goes is 2.5 kilos each of wheat malt and maris otter and a kilo of honey. I want some input from my readers (and let's face it - anyone else) who reckons they know a bit about this kind of beer style. So let's open up some suggestions and debate on a recipe.

I'm looking to make this beer in the next two to three weeks so give me time to propagate a yeast strain (preferably Wyeast as they're most easily available to me) and let's use hops that are readily available in the UK at this time. 

In terms of inventory I have the following hops in stock. Ahtanum, Apollo, Atlas, Amarillo, Cascade, Cluster, Citra, Columbus, Challenger, First Gold, Fuggles, Green Bullet, Hersbrucker, Northdown, Saaz, Simcoe, Sorachi, Willamette. 

So, please leave your comments below and we'll have a recipe by collaboration (or not) in a couple of weeks time. 

Sunday 21 August 2011

Ten Things I'd like To Do Before I Die

I'm not planning on dying any time soon, I should add, but I'm coming to the time of life when I should hopefully have the time (if not the money) to at least try and save up for some of these. I've been a husband and father (by choice, I might add) since I was twenty so am anxious to do what some of my friends did in their twenties before I'm too old to do them.

I'm blogging about it here but they aren't all beer related so I apologise for that. They're not listed in any particular order.

  1. Buy a holiday home in Normandy: I love it there and will certainly be going back at the next available opportunity. Hopefully a place like this would pay for itself in 10 years or so as I would let it out during the peak times. Obviously there would be a barn or cellar type place in which to brew. 
  2. Attend the Boxing Day test in an Ashes series. I know that, unless I want to get divorced, I will never achieve this. My wife hates cricket and would never agree either to accompany me or allow me to spend so much family budget away from her. 
  3. Motorhome across the USA. This is actually a more concrete plan for when we retire. For me this would obviously involve visits to as many craft breweries as I could fit in during the trip which we plan will take 12 months. 
  4. Build a shiny new brewery. Another one that is fairly achievable, this will allow me to do much temperature controlled mashing. I'm currently working out whether or not to go for propane or electricity. Whatever happens, it's not going to happen overnight. 
  5. Drive through France and Spain on a culinary tour in a camper van. 
  6. See a Test match at Lords. I've only been twice, once was in 1987, the year my mother died when the local publican, my father and I went to see the Saturday of the England v Pakistan test. It rained all day and not a ball was bowled. Later that year, they got tickets to the Saturday of the Oval test but I couldn't get the time off work. The only other time I went to Lords was to see what must have been a centenary test match where I saw Malcolm Marshall bowling to Sunny Gavaskar. 
  7. Visit every racecourse in the UK and Ireland. I love a bit of horse racing but admit that ticking them all off is a bit nerdy. 
  8. Brew one beer that is so awesome a commercial brewery picks it up and runs with it. 
  9. Get to more county cricket matches at St Lawrence. I've not been since 2009 and it really is something I must address.
  10. Avoid cancer and dementia long enough to see my children achieve their dreams. My eldest has embarked on a successful career in insurance and the pleasure it gives me is immeasurable. Yet, medically, cancer and dementia are our biggest challenges and, as we live longer, only become more prevalent. I'm not convinced I have either the courage or fortitude to live through either. I just hope the younger two manage to achieve their dreams whilst I'm still old and well enough to see it. 

Wednesday 17 August 2011

What To Do With 58 Budweiser bottles?

Budweiser bottles, bless them, they've had a sad life; mass produced and then force fed tasteless over carbonated beer. What better thing to do, then, than re use them. I filled mine with and Imperial Stout made with all English hops but with T-58 yeast.

I'll be honest, I'm really pleased with the results; velvety smooth with a moderate (for RIS) level of alcohol. I bastardised a recipe on BeerSmith to reflect the ingredients I had in stock. Carafa I for Black Malt may have enhanced the overall smoothness. I also added 450g of Dark Muscovado sugar and I used the T-58 yeast because I'd not bothered to make a starter for my Irish Ale yeast. 

You may be wondering how 58 Budweiser bottles came to be in my house in the first place. The answer lies in the fact that I am a parent of teenage sons and Tesco's happened to have them on special offer. Alex was 18 the month before last and everyone seemed to turn up with a case of these. Clearing up after the party I thought to myself that a 300mm bottle would, in fact, be an ideal receptacle for a 7% beer. And then there was the irony of the previous contents. 


Brewlength 19L
IBU (EST) 51
EBC (EST) 97
OG 1075
FG 1020
ABV 7%

Grain Bill
Pale Malt 5450g
Crystal Malt 450g
Roasted Barley 450g
Carafa I 350g
Chocolate Malt 230g

Boil Ingredients
450g Dark Muscovado Sugar
40g Northdown (7.20%AA) FWH
43g EKG (5%AA) @ 30 mins
14g Fuggles (5.22%AA) @ 5 mins
1 x protofloc

Yeast  - T-58

Water treatment
55ml CRS, 
8g table salt added to boiler
14g Calcium chloride added to boiler

Saturday 2 July 2011

Beer. Wine. Saturday Kitchen.

I wasn't watching Saturday Kitchen today but I was watching my twitter feed with some interest as it filled with tweets about matching beer instead of wine with food. 

The argument, beautifully put by Dave Bailey in his blog, is that a publicly funded broadcaster should not, almost exclusively, match wine with food when beer which, as many of us know,  goes just as well (if not better). This bias is made all the worse when we consider that beer is our national drink. Beer is what made Britain great; it is right up there with Rolls Royce, British Airways, BT and BP.

Only last month we were being reminded of the export heritage that was Russian Imperial Stout and how British brewers are taking that beer style back to St Petersburg. So why are we allowing our national broadcaster to eschew our national drink in favour of a largely foreign beverage, and promote supermarkets in the process?

Would we be as forgiving if, switching on BBC1 on a Saturday evening in November, we were to find handball or volleyball on the TV instead of Match of the Day? It couldn't possibly happen could it, after all football is our national game, right?

What I love about Britain is its diversity; I love it that I can walk down Whitstable High Street and choose to eat Indian, Thai, French, Italian, seafood and so on. However our national broadcaster fails to reflect this diversity by solely sticking to pairing wine with food. 

Learning to home brew has opened my taste buds to a world of wonderful flavours, largely not available in supermarkets. To a degree I could argue that it has ruined my appreciation of beer; I'm drinking a beer now that I used to think was the mutt's nuts but now I find I can't finish it and I'm drinking a pint of Red Rye home brew instead. How did this happen? The beer I always loved didn't suddenly get crap, my taste buds evolved and they evolved by embracing the diversity that is the British beer scene. Our national broadcaster would do well to do the same.

Sunday 19 June 2011

New Recipe - Imperial Stout

I was watching BBC Breakfast News yesterday when I saw this film about a group of British brewers taking Imperial Stout back to Russia. I've only done one Imperial Stout before, a version of Thornbridge's St Petersburg. 

This recipe is bastardised from one of the recipes on the excellent Beer Smith website, which reminds me, I must  download the new version of Beer Smith (2). It uses slightly more traditional hops and there's no smoked malt at all in there. 

My own modifications are to replace the black malt with Carafa 1 to try and make it a little smoother and to add 450g of dark muscovado sugar in the boil.The mash schedule is also rather unusual in this one; it includes a 30 minute protein rest and a 30 min saccrification step.


Batch Size 19L
Estimated OG 1087
Estimated IBU 50.4
Estimated Colour 97.1


5450g Pale Malt
450g Crystal Malt
450g Roasted Barley
350g Carafa Special 1
230g Chocolate Malt

Boil Ingredients

450g Dark Muscovado Sugar
Northern Brewer 8.5%AA - 33g FWH
EKG 5.22 AA 43g 30 mins
Fuggles 5.41%AA 28g 20 mins
Fuggles 5.41%AA 14g 2 mins


SafBrew T-58

Mash Schedule

Protein Rest - 10L at 57C; Mash at 50C for 30mins 
Saccrification  - 10L at 95C; Mash at 70C for 30 mins
Mash Out - 9L @ 90C; Mash at 75.6C for 10 mins
Sparge with 4L @ 75.6C

Monday 6 June 2011

Review - Dred Penguin's Oatmeal Stout

I've been looking forward to trying this for as while. I love dark beers, especially oatmeal stout and I was intrigued to see what Sorachi Ace would impart to the beer. 

I popped up to Gregg's place while he was getting a brew on. As it was a couple of days before the Derby, there were plenty of no parking signs. I can't remember what he was brewing but it sure smelled good. If it turns out as good as good as the Oatmeal stout it'll be well worth trying. Of course, if there's the tiniest bit of chill haze, that'll be my fault. I distracted Gregg while he was brewing and he forgot to add the irish moss.

So to the beer. It pours bible black with a tan head and medium carbonation. I love the full mouthfeel of the beer and the slight treacle taste I got at the back of my mouth. I had some fresh bread and mature cheddar for my supper and it went very well. Gregg's not the first to try Sorachi in a stout; Thornbridge's St Petersburg imperial stout uses it amongst others but it's a completely different animal. I can't really tell what Ace imparts to the beer other than a relatively smooth bitterness.

To read a bit more about Gregg and see some of his excellent photographs pop along to

Sunday 5 June 2011

First Attempt at a Rye Ale

I'll be the first to admit I don't know much about this beer style other than I like it very much. I've only tried three; Zerodegrees RyePA, London Brick and Founders Reds Rye which was easily the best of the three.

I looked up a few Rye PA recipes on the net but ended up bastardising a Whispering Bob recipe thus:

Batch Size - 23L
Estimated OG - 1068
Estimated Colour  - 23 EBC
Estimated Bitterness - 61 IBU

Grain Bill
5000g Maris Otter Pale Malt
500g Aromatic Malt
500g Pale Rye Malt
350g Caramunich 
300g Carapils 
150g Crystal Wheat Malt

Hop Schedule
FWH - 25g Apollo 18%AA
FWH - 20g Amarillo 10.4%AA
Late Hops (last 10 mins) 5g Apollo, 5g Amarillo
Steep Hops (20mins @ 80c) 30g Apollo, 40g Amarillo
Dry Hops 20g Amarillo

Water Treatment
40L Water
50ml CRS
1.5g Gypsum added to Mash
1.5g Gypsum added to boiler
6.5g Epsom Salts added to boiler

1 x Protofloc Tablet @ 5mins

1 x Wyeast American Ale #1056 in 1L starter

Mash Schedule
Mash In - 18L @ 77C
Hold Mash @ 70C for 60 mins
Mash Out - 7L @ 91.5C 
Hold Mash @ 75C for 10 mins
Sparge with 15L @ 75C
Add water to achieve pre-boil volume 30.5L

I ended up with an OG of 1062 and a volume of 25L so I must have added too much water at some point (my boiler isn't terribly well calibrated) but, if it ferments out to 1010 I'll have a beer at 6.8%.

Friday 6 May 2011

Liquor Treatment

So, now that I've got the more basic parts of brewing sorted it is time to deal with the aspect of brewing that leaves me cold. Water chemistry.

I was never much of a student at school and, although I loved chemistry dearly, Mrs Flowerdew seemed to take my enthusiasm for being a pain in the arse and issued me with minuses for effort on a monthly basis. Consequently, in spite of scoring a respectable, if not outstanding, 66% in the end of year exam, I was not selected to take the subject to O level. 

Couple that with a general crapness at maths and maybe you can begin to see my reticence to attempt water chemistry. 

Luckily for me at The Home Brew Forum they have a series of really useful calculators and together with a water report from my local water company, it completely demystified the whole process for me. Having said this, I've yet to brew a beer with the modified water, erm sorry liquor, so perhaps I ought to reserve judgement.

First things first, I needed to get a water quality report from my water provider. This proved to be easier than some pro brewers have found. I went on my water providers website and filled in the contact form, 10 days later (not bad given that we've had two consecutive bank holiday weekends) I have a water report from which I plug the relevant concentrations into the THBF's water treatment calculator, then choose a beer style from the drop down menu and away we go. 

The last word on water chemistry calculations should go to Yellerbelly Brewery who blogged about it a year ago. He keeps winning beer competitions so he must be doing something right and I suspect attention to detail is a large part of it.

Thursday 5 May 2011

The Easy Home Brew Guide To Bottling

I wrote this for the other blog I write for. As there is some crossover I thought I'd publish it here too

Often referred to as the "home brewers biggest pain in the bottom" bottling takes time but, if done in an organised manner it can be mildly tolerable.


For me the most laborious aspect of bottling was putting priming sugar in each bottle so one of my early purchases were a little bottler and bottling bucket. Using this method of bottling eliminates this particular hassle and also ensures you get less sediment in the bottle. 

Racking from fermenter to bottling bucket

A bottling bucket is simply a fermenter with a 25mm hole at the bottom of the wall to accept the little bottler. The idea is that you simply rack the fermented beer in to the bottling bucket using a syphon. Leave the beer in there for 24-48 hours for it to settle out. Then you need to draw off about 200-300 ml of beer into a sterilised jug and warm it in the microwave (you can also warm it on a hob if you have no microwave). You then add the requisite amount of priming sugar (i.e.85g per 23L) and return in to the bottling bucket gently so as not to introduce too much oxygen. 

After that it is simply a case of adding the bottling wand and bottling away; the valve at the bottom of the bottling wand opens when it touches the bottom of the bottle and allows the beer to flow through, when the beer reaches the top of the bottle, withdraw the wand and, hey presto, you've got the requisite amount of head space.

Cleaning and Draining

The other godsend I couldn't bottle beer without is the bottle rinser and drainercombination. Since I sterilise my bottles (and the drainer) in the bath, I then need somewhere to drain them whilst one of my teenagers requires the bathroom. I've taken to adding three chlorine bleach tablets per bath of water, leaving the bottles, rinser and drainer in there for half an hour.

When I'm sure the bottles are sterile, I take the drainer and rinser out, assemble it and then take the bottles out of the bath and leave them to drain. I then fill the rinser with boiled and cooled water and the bottling production line is almost complete.


Unless you use PET or swing top bottles, the final part of the bottling production line is capping. We sell three types at Easy Home Brew; the single handled hammer on capper, the twin lever capper and the bench capper. If you bottle a lot, I would look no further than the latter, because you can cap any bottle designed to take a crown cap which cannot be said for the twin handled lever capper. When using the bench capper, it will greatly assist your production line if they are all the same height as this will prevent you from having to adjust. Whichever method of capping you choose, please remember to sterilise your crown caps.

Production Line

I tend to use two crates which holds 20 bottles each. I fill these with beer then turn the tap on the little bottler off (you may need to place a jug underneath to catch the drips), I then move the first crate to another part of the kitchen, and cap them before starting on the second crate. This means the beer is not exposed to air longer than absolutely necessary. 

Once the bottling is done, I label, pack into wine crates, which I also label and leave in the warm for a week (circa 20c) before transferring to the shed (c13c) for a period of conditioning.