Saturday, 31 December 2011

Black Moon Stout

The next few posts will probably review some of the recent brews. I’ll kick off with the Black Moon Stout as it sitting in two kegs and I’ve been drinking plenty of it, served under a Nitrogen/Co2 mix.

I split the 10 gallon batch, which had been infused with a couple of vanilla pods, into two fermenters and added some toasted coconut to one. 

The positives are that it’s a very drinkable beer. Dark  ruby, rather than black, and very very smooth. Any vanilla flavour is muted in the background somewhere, but it’s there if you search for it.

The coconut, however, was probably a gamble which didn’t pay off.

It didn’t add enough flavour to make the impact I had hoped, and for some reason, the coconut version isn’t quite as smooth as the vanilla. While it’s  a nice beer, it’s simply not as nice as the other.

Would I make it again? For sure, although I might tinker with the recipe a little. If anything it’s a little light for a stout – in terms of body and maybe in colour. Maybe just a handful more roast barley would sort that. And I’d leave the coconut alone and maybe double the vanilla pods.

A good beer.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Impromptu Brewday

I know there's only just over a fortnight to Christmas, but I've decided to squeeze in a small brew which will hopefully be ready in time.

With the harshness of the Bobek hops dominating my last two pale ales, I thought I'd like something in reserve that wouldn't put off the non-ale drinkers who might frequent our humble abode over the festive season.

So I've decided to do half a batch (40 pints) of a very simple ale. Very nearly all pale malt with just handful, or two, of torrified wheat to help the head retention and just a single hop; Cascade.

To get it ready in time it needs to be lowish gravity, so I'll aim at something like 1.040 and use a fast acting, flocculant yeast, like S-04.

With colder weather forecast in these parts, there's a chance the outside water supply might freeze at some time between now and Christmas, so I reckon it's a good idea to get a brew on while the going's good.

Like I need an excuse.

Monday, 5 December 2011

Get Supping

Hops. Wonderful things, but right now they're doing my head in. Or at least one variety is. Or, should that be three varieties? I'll explain.

Many of the pale ales I've brewed over the last few years have included Styrian Goldings. A lovely variety, both for bittering and aroma. Soft, slightly floral, with a hint of citrus.

Sadly we can no longer buy Styrian Goldings as Styrian Goldings. They are grown in Slovenia but, since joining the EU, someone's stuck their oar in. The original Styrian Goldings, I'm led to believe, were made up of a mixture of three hops; Bobek, Celeia and Savinjski. Now, because of EU legislation, they have to be sold individually.

This might not seem a problem, but I've recently done two brews that both called for SG's. These were beers that I've brewed on several occasions, so I knew the flavour profile I was looking to achieve.

The two brews in question were the first in which I replaced the SG's with Bobek. Let me tell you now, it's not the same beer. Both beers have disappointed (only slightly, they're still good drinking), and I'm sure it's down to the hops as everything else in the recipe and process remained constant.

As a result, I've purchased small amounts of Celeia and Savinjski to try next time.

The most frustrating part  is that both beers had been developed over a period of time. Having just got the pair where I wanted them, the flavour gets skewed and it's now going to take several more batches to get them back on track while I try the other two hop varieties, or a combination of all three.

The upside is that I'll have to brew more. While drinking is no great hardship, supping a near identical batch, time after time, maybe.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Brewday - Black Moon Stout 25/11/2011

I've just finished crushing the malt in preparation for tomorrow's brew.

An oatmeal stout is not a style I've attempted before, but after some recipe searching on the internet and having looked at the malts I had in stock, the grist for this one is made up as follows;

Pale Malt 8400g (80.3%)
Chocolate Malt 550g (5.3%)
Oats (lightly toasted) 500g (4.8%)
Crystal Malt 400g (3.8%)
Carahell 400g (3.8%)
Roasted Barley 210g (2%)

Target gravity is 1.048 and it's to be hopped with Whitbread Goldings to 32.5 IBU's

I intend to add two split vanilla pods at switch-off and leave these to infuse for 40mins before cooling.

As usual, the 10 gallon batch will be split between two fermenters; 1. So they fit in my fermenting fridge and 2. So I can add some toasted coconut to just one. I'm pretty sure the vanilla will work well, but I didn't want the coconut to ruin the complete batch.

Update: A very straightforward brewday with just the single hop addition. Everything was trouble-free, although I'm not sure I'd recommend adding the coconut in the FV as it floated - whether it will sink as it absorbs the wort remains to be seen, so racking might be tricky when the time comes. I wasn't getting much vanilla taste from the wort either, but I'll reserve judgement until it's ready to drink.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Black Moon Creeping

I've started tucking into the recently brewed Best Bitter and Citra Pale Ale, both are pretty good and I'll try to get around to giving some tasting notes and pictures when I find some time. But right now, I'm itching to brew again.

Having sampled some fine oatmeal stout last week, I just have to brew some. I've not done a stout for a couple of years - my last attempt was far too roasty for my liking, but my palate has changed. While I'm still not a massive fan of dark beers, they're more agreeable than they used to be and nice smooth oatmeal stout will be just the job. I'm rather ashamed I've not already got one lined up for Christmas, so I'll have to pencil in a brewday real soon. I might also chuck in a few interesting ingredients to add a twist to the flavour - I'm currently thinking vanilla and coconut, so watch this space for the recipe.

And as I usually have the music cranked up when brewing, with it more often than not featuring tunes from the Black Crowes, there's only one name possible for this forthcoming brew. Black Moon Stout.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Brewday - Gatekeeper 03/11/2011

Thursday will see the brewing boots back on.

A stronger English pale ale, the grist for which will be made up of three malts; a combination of Pale, Carahell and Crystal.

The bittering hops will be my homegrown Target. Impossible for me to know the Alpha Acid content, which is why many homegrown hops are often used purely for aroma. It's difficult to know whether the harvesting of one's own hops will preserve more of the lupulin than the commercial approach, or vice versa. Charles Faram quote Target with an acid content between 8%-12% and with recent harvests at the upper end of the scale, I've assumed 10% for mine.

Two later hop additions will utilise a new hop for me. Delta. An American variety, which apparently has a softer profile than some of the usual suspects.

Target gravity is 1.054 and I intend to split the ten gallon batch between two fermenters and try a different yeast in each.

Interestingly, I decided to check the alkalinity of the brewing water prior to brewing this batch - something I've not done since the spring. It might be worth doing more frequently as the alkalinity appears to have dropped quite significantly. I ran the test three times and got the same result, so I have no reason to doubt the reading. I use Brupaks CRS and DLS to balance the water, and have adjusted my usual additions accordingly.

Update: Aside from a morning power cut, the day was drama free. The hops smelt gorgeous and beer was made, although my efficiency was down.

I ended up with 10 gallons at 1.052, so it won't end up as strong as planned, but it will hopefully still taste good. ( I mashed quite high at 68/69C for a full body and wonder if this contributed to the lower efficiency?)

A pH reading in the mash looked spot on with the new water treatment and I'll update with some tasting notes once it's ready to go.

Gatekeeper (Elite)
Extra Special/Strong Bitter (English Pale Ale)
Type: All Grain Date: 03/11/2011
Batch Size (fermenter): 46.00 l Brewer: Mark
Boil Size: 57.03 l Asst Brewer:
Boil Time: 75 min Equipment: Elite Brewery
End of Boil Volume 52.00 l Brewhouse Efficiency: 70.00 %
Final Bottling Volume: 46.00 l Est Mash Efficiency 76.1 %
Fermentation: Ale, Two Stage Taste Rating(out of 50): 
Taste Notes:

Amt Name Type # %/IBU
10500.00 g Pale Malt, Maris Otter (5.9 EBC) Grain 1 92.9 %
450.00 g Carahell Malt (25.0 EBC) Grain 2 4.0 %
350.00 g Caramel/Crystal Malt -120L (236.4 EBC) Grain 3 3.1 %
70.00 g Target [10.00 %] - Boil 60.0 min Hop 4 36.2 IBUs
21.00 g Delta [6.50 %] - Boil 20.0 min Hop 5 4.3 IBUs
1.00 Items Whirlfloc Tablet (Boil 10.0 mins) Fining 6 -
20.00 g Delta [6.50 %] - Boil 7.0 min Hop 7 1.8 IBUs

Beer Profile
Est Original Gravity: 1.054 SG Measured Original Gravity: 
Est Final Gravity: 1.011 SG Measured Final Gravity: 
Estimated Alcohol by Vol: 5.6 % Actual Alcohol by Vol: 
Bitterness: 42.3 IBUs
Est Color: 17.3 EBC

Monday, 17 October 2011

Brewday - Citra Pale Ale 14/10/2011

There’s nothing worse than having a shortage of beer in the house when there’s a ten gallon brewery sitting in the garage.

To be fair, the shortage was self-inflicted when I decided life was too short for mediocre beer. And my last two brews were definitely no better than mediocre.

The Green Bullet Gold was an odd beer. The main problem with it was that I used some old hops I had in the bottom of the freezer. Not only had they had been in there a while, they were given free of charge from a brewery in the first place, so they had definitely lost a sheadload of Alpha.

In the brew prior to that one, I was experimenting with amber malt. I’d used it before in beers I hadn’t liked and gave it one last chance.  It won’t get another. 

I decided to ditch all the amber beer and all the bottled GBG. For some reason the kegged version wasn’t so bad, so I’ve been surviving on that.

The upshot was that I needed more beer. The Best Bitter has been bottled but will need time to condition, so in the interim I decided to get another brew on the go to replenish stocks. 

Rather than devise a new recipe, I reached for my brewnotes for the Citra Pale Ale. This took third at the UK National Hombrew Competition and is exactly the sort of ale I needed in reserve. An easy drinking, sunshine number with a little hoppy bite at the death.

It was brewed on Friday – 50 litres at an original gravity of 1.042. My last batch fermented down to 1.012, giving an ABV of 3.9%. Exactly the sort of beer you can chuck down your neck when a thirst needs quenching.

 The familiar sight of golden wort 

I realise I’m lacking something a bit stronger with the winter approaching and I aim to put that right on my next brewday - using homegrown hops.

I’ve also got a dark winter ale to get sorted. For that pair I’ll probably just brew 5 gallon batches. Recipe and brewday notes to follow when I can find some time to fire up the brewery again. 

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Brewday - Best Bitter 29/09/11

I was due to brew the week before, but a dose of incompetence saw the element in the copper burn out. Switched on in error, when the vessel was dry, meant the brewday was cut short.

Thankfully the element was replaced quickly and I was able to start again a week later. After some experimental brews, I wanted an easy drinker that I knew would be good. 

The last brew lacked hop presence, down to the fact that the hops in question had been stored for quite some time. The brew prior to that had used amber malt, which didn't work at all well in a pale ale, so I've been immersed in mediocre beer for far too long.

This recipe is one I've done, in some form or another, for some time. It's a standard English best bitter. I tweak the hops here and there to try and obtain the beer I've planned in my head - I've not always succeeded, but it's always been a pleasure to drink, and I'm hoping this batch will be no different.

There were no hiccups along the way, other than the new element was a bit more efficient than the old one, which I guess should have been expected on the first brew. As a result I boiled off a bit more than planned and ended up slightly short on volume and a tad high on gravity. I couldn't be arsed to liquor back, so left it as it was.

It's currently fermenting at 20C, I'll check the gravity again on day 6 and 7 and see if it's finished. Until then, here's a shot of the sparge in action, and the wort going into the copper;

And here's the recipe, exported from Beersmith. I'll review the beer once it's ready to drink.

Best (Elite)
Special/Best/Premium Bitter
Type: All GrainDate: 29/09/2011
Batch Size (fermenter): 46.00 lBrewer: Mark
Boil Size: 57.03 lAsst Brewer:
Boil Time: 75 minEquipment: Elite Brewery
End of Boil Volume 52.00 lBrewhouse Efficiency: 70.00 %
Final Bottling Volume: 46.00 lEst Mash Efficiency 76.1 %
Fermentation: Ale, Two StageTaste Rating(out of 50): 
Taste Notes:
9000.00 gPale Malt, Maris Otter (5.9 EBC)Grain195.0 %
470.00 gCaramel/Crystal Malt -120L (236.4 EBC)Grain25.0 %
35.00 gProgress [7.50 %] - Boil 60.0 minHop414.6 IBUs
38.00 gWhitbread Golding Variety (WGV) [6.80 %] - Boil 60.0 minHop314.3 IBUs
25.00 gBobek [4.00 %] - Boil 20.0 minHop53.4 IBUs
15.00 gBobek [4.00 %] - Boil 7.0 minHop70.9 IBUs
1.00 ItemsWhirlfloc Tablet (Boil 10.0 mins)Fining6-

Beer Profile
Est Original Gravity: 1.045 SGMeasured Original Gravity: 1.048 SG
Est Final Gravity: 1.010 SGMeasured Final Gravity:  
Estimated Alcohol by Vol: 4.6 %Actual Alcohol by Vol: 
Bitterness: 33.1 IBUsCalories: 
Est Color: 17.9 EBC

Monday, 26 September 2011

Hop Harvest

The hop harvest is now complete.

I've been growing two main varieties. Target, a traditional English bittering hop and Bramling Cross, an English aroma hop.

Bramling Cross were far more prolific this year, mainly due to the fact that the other variety had to be moved at the start of the season, as I'd constructed some new frames to support the vines and it wasn't possible to erect these in their original position.

The Bramling Cross had very large vivid green cones and were ready to harvest a week or two before the Target. To be honest, I probably harvested them a week too late. Many of the cones had begun to be tinged with brown, but I couldn't pick any sooner as we caught the tail end of Hurricane Katia just when I wanted to harvest and it became too wet.

Bramling Cross

The Target cones are smaller and have a red hue about them. I didn't expect too much from them this year, having been transplanted at the start of the season, but they still produced a fair few cones.


Once harvested, the hops were dried, spread in a single layer on net curtain material in the loft. There was plenty of heat to do the job and they were dried in a couple of days.

I need to invest in a vacuum sealer, but for now I bagged them up and stored them in the freezer. I managed 850g (dried weight) of the Bramling Cross and 580g of the Target.

I've got a brew earmarked for the Target hops in a few weeks time. Before that, I'm hoping to brew a traditonal English bitter. Providing I get my broken copper back this week, I may be able to squeeze in the first brew this Thursday.

One downside to growing your own is the uncertainty over the acid content. The alpha acid is the source of hop bitterness, which is obvioulsy an important factor in getting a nicely balanced beer.

But, to be honest, unless you're trying to brew a competition beer, I'm not so sure that a percentage here or there is ultimately going to make too much difference.  According to the Murphy's web site, Bramling Cross come in the acid range of 5%-7% and Target 8% -10%. If I take the lower end of the scale, I don't think I'll go far wrong.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

National Homebrew Competition - The Result

I detailed the beers I had entered in this post. Beers were judged in accordance with BJCP guidelines and this is some of the feedback from the scoresheets. There were two for each beer;

1. Old Ale -  Aroma and appearance did well. 7/12 from one judge on aroma (although the other detected some oxidisation) and appearance 3/3. I lost points on the flavour - 'hops too dominant' was one comment. Overall impression from one was that it needed more malt complexity/richness.The other thought the alcohol was a little sharp. I was surprised with the comment to age it well, as it's already two years old.

Overall score was 30 (out of 50) - this puts it in the 'Very Good' category. 'Beers in this range may have minor flaws, or may be lacking in balance or complexity.' So, a good beer but not quite to style.

2. Pale Ale - Both judges gave this 3/3 for appearance and one a hefty 9/12 for aroma. Mouthfeel was a brilliant 5/5 with flavour 17/20 from one, 16/20 from the other. Both gave 8/10 for overall impression. 'A good beer, great balance'.

Overall score was 41 - 'Excellent' I was completely blown away by this result. I was awarded 3rd place in this category.

3. Best Bitter - Again, this beer looked the part with both judges giving 3/3 for appearance. 'Golden colour, great head and retention, strong beading.' Sadly, from here it went downhill. It was evident the bottles I sent were oxidised. 'Off flavours dominate a beer with great appearance' was the overall impression.

Overall score was 25 - 'Good'. A real shame this beer wasn't quite right. The bottles I had at home were fine, but I guess splashing during bottling had affected a few.

In summary, a good display for my first ever foray into the world of homebrew competitions.

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Brewday - Green Bullet Gold 25/08/11

Thursday wasn't quite the pleasurable brewday I had in mind.

The brew went well, it's just that the more enjoyable vision in my head was one of sunshine, peace and quiet from the usual day-to-day, a good deal of drinking and some top music.

What I'd forgotten, was that it was school holidays.

This meant the whole bloody troop were at home. Screaming youngsters, moody teenagers and a tetchy wife. All doing my head in, in some fashion or another, when all I wanted was to have the day to myself.

Anyhow beer was made.

Mashed in at 67C;

Steamy sparge;

Golden wort into the copper;

Chilling and into fermenter #1

Two 5 Gallon fermenters in the fermenting fridge @ 20C

Golden wort, OG 1038

I'm planning to brew again in a couple of weeks. Something a bit stronger and darker. And I'll make sure the house is empty.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Impending Brewday

Right. It’s about time I bloody brewed something.

Pressure of work leading up to the family holiday, then dealing with all the crap when I got back, has meant I’ve not had time to scratch my backside, let alone think about getting a brew on.

But I finally can pause to draw breath next week, so I’ve pencilled in a brewday for Thursday.

I can’t disclose the recipe for this one as it’s based on a commercial beer brewed by a friend of mine. All I can say is that it’s a golden ale, using Green Bullet hops and is marketed as a ‘perfect thirst quencher’.

Let’s just hope there’s some summer left in which to enjoy it. To put our summer in perspective to any American readers, it’s currently 52F as I write. And it’s raining. 

I’m currently out of pale malt, so I’ll be off to ThreeCastles Brewery next week to pick up a sack. Can’t wait to get the brewing boots back on...

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Hop Crisis

Having been on holiday, I thought it prudent to nip down the allotment to see how things were doing upon my return. Good job I did as one of my hop frames had partially collapsed. Apologies for the quality of the shots, but I only had my phone with me.

Before I left the plants were beginning to climb nicely over the frame...

But then, half the bamboo supports this side gave way...

I've managed to bodge it together for now, but there'll have to be some serious improvements for next year. The second frame was unaffected as I had to move the hop plants for that structure and they didn't take off as well as those that were already in position.

The good news is that the harvest looks promising.

Friday, 12 August 2011

National Homebrew Competition

Having brewed full-mash beers for nearly four years, I thought I might have a crack at the National Homebrew Competition.

I don't expect to win, but I'd be interested to get some valuable feedback on my beers, especially now that I've got familiar with my new gear. And fortunately for me, it's taking place in Bristol.  Just 50 mins from me in the car.

I've decided to enter three beers;

1. Old Ale - this was actually my attempt at a barley wine, but it came in at the lower end of the BW scale with an OG of 1.080. As a result, it might do better in the old ale section, so that's where I've entered it.

2. Pale Ale - This was a brew I put together with various hops, including Citra. I blogged about it here - the bottles I'm taking are from the second batch I brewed.

3. Best Bitter - I would have preferred this to have gone in the 'Ordinary Bitter' category because it's not overly hoppy or malty, just a straightforward, easy-drinking beer.

Trouble is, you have to adhere to style guidelines in the competition and with an OG of 1.045, it doesn't fit - it will have to go in the special/best/premium bitter category. It's bound to get overpowered by more sexy, hop bombs, but hey, I think it's a good beer and I'd be interested to see how it scores.

I've never entered a competition before, so I'm not sure what to expect but I'll post about how I get on next month. It's on September 3rd.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

The Gear

Some will already be familiar with my set-up. For those that are not, I was lucky enough to upgrade my homemade gear with this unit, about twelve months ago.

The copper has a 60 litre capacity, so for a medium gravity beer it's good for about eighty pints in one hit.

For those unfamiliar with the brewing process, the Hot Liquor Tun is the vessel in which all the brewing liquor (water) is heated. The Mash Tun is where the water and selection of malts (grist) are combined. The resulting liquid (wort) is then pumped into the Copper, where it's boiled along with the hops, which add bitterness and aroma.

As I'm about to disappear on holiday, I'm unlikely to be brewing my next batch until the end of August.

Saturday, 23 July 2011

Getting Grist

Homebrew. That awful concoction your dad had fermenting in the airing cupboard back in the seventies? I don't think so.   

Time has moved on. Using the same principles, ingredients and methods as the big breweries, it should come as no surprise that the new wave of homebrewers are producing beer as good, often better, than you get down the pub.

Without the restraining hand of an accountant, homebrewers can use the very best ingredients to produce some stunning beers, without compromise. 

This blog promises to record the highs and lows of my homebrewing exploits, along with some alcohol induced anecdotes along the way. All are welcome. We're going to get grist.