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

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