Unwittingly welcoming in one of the finest weekday evenings in weekday evening history, October second brought with it some serious brewing undertaking that while left dangerously incomplete, also saw the completion of a previous project - so i think that makes up for it.
With the moral, spiritual and physical assistance of Tom & Christine we set about;
Brewing 12 litres of 1896 AK (complete!)
This was hopped with home-grown Bramling Cross from my Mum & Stepdad (Colin)'s Garden.
Unfortunately due to late picking these were beginning to brown so this was an exercise in attempting to use some of them up before they're too far gone to be of any use, rather than anything calculated or sensible.
The thinking here was fairly straightforward - Colin likes AK. Colin likes the beers made with hops from his garden. So why not? Many excellent reasons, as it happens, not least the fact that homegrown hops are impossible to know the strength (alpha acid content) and so in taking a punt i could have overbittered to an unpalatable degree, something even more dangerous in a hop-heavy beer - but sometimes extremely low expectation can mean that even mediocre is pleasing. We will see!
5 Litres of Fullers OBE
Having tasted this Tuesday night Tom declared we have to make it (or maybe i declared it... who cares, we made it) Straight to the recipe and destined to be dumped on fullers yeast cake the hope is that a few bottles of this pretty serious beer can be shared around at Christmas....
Currently incomplete awaiting hopping although brought to boiling point to hopefully sterilise enough to last the overnight.
4/5 Litres of Chiswick/AK
I've noticed of late that my figures are totally off and im winding up with far more in the mash tun after brewing and overall slightly less of the original beer than desired. Part of this is my natural desire to brew more than my boiler can take (12L desired beer + 2L Boiloff + A ton of hops does not fit in a 14L Pot....), and part of it is the fact that my mash tun is so slow to drain the sparge that i often give up before its through. And then theres the fact my calculations are totally fucked and need some serious analysis. Anyway, the upshot is twice in a row now i've wound up with 4-5 Litres of extra beer at approx 3%.
In the case of the 1896 AK this is going to become a weaker version, hopefully not dissimilar to my beloved Fulllers Chiswick bitter. Previously though the extra wort has not been found until the next day, emitting a serious funk from 24 hour mashing. In this case it was hopped with (slightly younger) Bramling X to around 30 IBU's (estimated) and left to ferment on its own with wild yeast. Tom's been raving about Sour beer so hopefully it'll make him happy. Personally i'm a little scared to touch it.
Not much to say about this part of the process other than recording the fact that each 5L batch was full of mushy damson gunk and had 20g of cane sugar added to it for secondary fermentation.
Heres a low down on initial tastings (mostly courtesy of Tom); Mild - Slight sweetness, less roast flavour than expected but still relatively bitter. Not a lot of sour or fruit. Porter - Similar to the above but bigger flavour - smelled almost like fruit wine, jet black with a purple hue. Dregs - Possibly the most interesting of the lot (goddammit!) "fruit, sour, tart, sweetness" - says Tom.
Shall let them sit for a few weeks then tentatively try a couple, and maybe leave the rest til Christmas....
Other things of note; 2 successive weeks have seen the brewing of an attempted Sam Smiths Pale Ale 'clone' - involving some epic decoction to hopefully impart that toffee flavour and a slightly darker colour through caramelising the malt sugars
& substituting some Fuggles for Delta (Fuggles/Cascade hybrid). I'm not sure why i keep thinking that using Delta is a good idea, especially in a traditional english bitter, other than the fact the everytime i see the word i hear Paul Simon singing the line; 'shining like a national guitar', which brings back such awesome memories i can't help but feel entirely positive about the decision.
Its probably the reason that when coming to brew the next beer the same day as bottling the SSPA (and taking a sip thinking its bitterness was spot on) i decided it was a good idea to make a Delta 'IPA'. Modelled on EdWorts Haus Ale (with Munich instead of Vienna and Delta substituting all Cascade). Hopefully this'll be good.
In addition to the gear update (below) heres a vague low down of what i've brewed in the interim, starting with the most recent, because thats the easiest to remember! June: Final day of the month saw my first foray in to morning brewing and a double hitter of 15L of Obama's porter, and King Bob(Goblin) - Hobgoblin clone brewed to approx 6%. 10L of porter is destined to be Coconutted (worth another try!) for a friends birthday party, and 5L is destined for my own 'private stock' because it was damn good last time.
A mere week before that i attempted to turn around a 'light summer beer' on request for a family-friends wifes birthday party. While i think i missed the mark on summer beer, starting with a tweaked Fullers AK recipe and dropping the hopping rate slightly the result was a 4.5% Toffee Flavoured Bitter that was well received and thanks to the miracles of protofloc, yeast harvesting, filtering and force carbonation was a very drinkable, crystal clear pint that went from grain to glass in 10 days.
Prior to that was a super-brewday seeing Tom and I take ludicrous leaps forward in the fields of recipe formulation, parti-gyling and brewing with fruit, making a 20L split batch of 7% porter and 3% Mild, which once fermented was split again in to 5L of each which were bottled and 5L of each which were transferred to secondary and added Damsons from Tom's Mums garden. God knows what its going to come out like, but i can confirm the (unfruited) mild is already excellent.
In addition to this on this Joyous day, Tom's Lady-friend Christine joined my Lady-friend Georgie in forming the 'brewsters' brewing up their own recipe of Golden belgian beer on my 5L kit. I was completely hands off on this one so can't tell you what went on, but it all looks very promising when bottled last weekend.
May: Saw me brewing numerous recipes for my own birthday party, served on an uncharacteristically hot day in our garden on my ebay acquired 3 handpump-bar. Putting it all together was a bit of a headache, but it was an excellent day and the beer went down well. 'On tap' was;
Fullers Old Harry & X Ale; my first foray in to parti-gyling. A bit of a headache to figure out, but easy enough thanks to my new 'jam' boiler rendering my stockpot and induction hob unused meaning i could have both batches on the boil simultaneously. Brewed to the letter of the recipe and pretty much nailed, the Old Harry was very well recieved - the X Ale maybe a little less enthusiastically but only because i served it second and everybody had already had a taste of the 'good stuff'...
Also on tap was my Sam Smiths Oatmeal stout - an excellent recipe, but really worthy of note in my own brewing experience due to the fact that having brewed a month earlier, i eagerly cracked a bottle to discover that something had gone horribly wrong in the boil and there was no hop flavour at all to balance the sweetness.Distraught i left them alone for 2 weeks until a few days before the party rolled around. Having a brainwave i figured i could try to add the hop flavour back in - Boiling up some fuggles for an hour with a few litres of tap water, i let cool overnight and then cracked a bottle and added the boiled hop-tea in different quantities. Georgie and i established the preferred quantity of hop-juice to add from 5 different samples, which i then scaled up to 5L. Being that this was about 2L of hop-tea itself i boiled it down to approx 100ml of dark green sludge, added it and decanted bottles in to a 5L Water bottle, screwed on the top and crossed my fingers. The day of the party i was astounded to say it came out perfectly balanced, no off flavours and was extremely well received. Good lesson there i think - beers can be saved!
I also produced some more 1952 mild which didnt end up on tap and is currently bottled and a Haus Pale which was sadly far too young at the party, and oxidised afterwards so was binned :(
UP NEXT: Tom's Birthday Beer Bonanza, so far featuring Kolsch, Citra Pale Ale, Black IPA, some kind of smoked beer & possibly more. Not sure what it says about me but i'm f'ing excited!
A quick round up of what has occurred, hopefully in an attempt to spur me in to start updating this again.
When shopping the post-Christmas sales with George, i picked up small book and began to make detailed notes on all my recipes for 2013. This has unfortunately caused the destruction of my attempts to catalogue things on here. This said it works a little better for me, as it has allowed me to make clear notes of exactly what i actually DID, including all my (in hindsight) totally stupid mistakes. Not that anyones reading this, but the idea of putting my failures and misunderstandings on display (combined with the lag time between brewing and writing causing some confusion over what actually occurred) was the source of some potential embarrassment. At least this way mistakes can be recorded and rectified off the record.
Since last writing i have acquired some new equipment; 2 x Lidl Jam Makers. I happily stumbled across them one Sunday afternoon at 30% off on clearance in Lidl - Initially seeing it as a cheap way to obtain a larger boiler than my current 13L stock pot, its actually proved invaluable as an HLT - water heated to surprisingly accurate temperature and held there for a period of time has been perfect for hands-off mash preparation as well as far more accurate sparging, and contributed significantly to the overall quality of my beers as well as a more relaxed overall brewday - an absolutely excellent purchase. Although the provided plastic taps are next to useless and i recommend changing to a 15mm tank connector, which required some careful filing (so as not to chip the enamel) with a very fine file.
Sadly it doesnt fare so well as a boiler as its appears to stop-start on the power to maintain an overall temperature means it doesnt presently hold a decent rolling boil which has given me a couple of issues with both lack of boiloff making the result less concentrated/lower gravity than expected and in one case involving a hopbag, not enough vigorous boiling to break them up and release the oils, winding up with a basically un-hopped stout.
In addition to this i've set up and put in to use my temp controlled brewing fridge. A simple set up of a small fridge with a tube heater in the bottom, temperature controlled by a stc1000.
I'll admit to being skeptical as to how much difference this was going to make, which is probably why i dragged my heels setting it up. I can now comfortably say that i'm an idiot, and the temp control has not only eliminated problems experienced with fusel alcohols and slight off flavours, but meant i can actually ferment things out cleaner and quicker and experiment with the difference in outcome at different temps - accentuating fruitness in bitter by fermenting high, and going as clean as possible fermenting low. Not only is this evident in the beer but in the fermentation itself - relatively low resulting in a much more....gluey krausen and high giving nice thick cap of bubbles.
As a superbonus being a fridge freezer its allowed me to crash cool which settles out the yeast and trub in to really solid cake resulting in cleaner beer & quicker turn around times.
This is starting to sound like an advert.... not the intention but if you're reading this and havent got it set up yet, i'd say this is the next BIG step to take in taking your beers from awesome to 'proper class' as the head brewer of a local brewery was kind enough to describe my Altbier.
Sigh. I guess it was about time. And truthfully i knew i was taking the piss a bit by 'taking a punt', thinking in the back of my mind that it wouldnt really matter because i already have too much beer anyway. Still, sad to see it die (and possibly have to dump some equipment in the process).
So, i toasted as per the instructions and dumped 100g or so of Dessicated coconut in to the fermenter. Nowhere can i find any instructions on how to sanitise this stuff for this purpose (although plenty of people are talking about adding it) but sure enough a couple of days later the delicious porter smells like paint stripper and is sporting a thin white film. Apparently this is an Acetobacter infection (or looks a lot like it) - it basically turns the alcohol in to vinegar. I've had this once before thanks to summer brewing a 25L lager kit and a fruit fly finding its way in. Very sad times pouring that one away. but from experience you dont want to drink it, even though you still can.
So i suppose in some ways all is not lost. 6L of Dark coconut malt vinegar might make a good Christmas gift for someone.
Due to the apparent success of other Barclay Perkins site recipe (1914 AK) the write up on this Best Mild sounded promising.
Its a curious psychology - i guess part interest in how beers 'used to be', part investigation of the complete unknown (although not in this case, use of adjuncts like corn and high % of invert syrup seems to have died a death in the modern world of brewing) but mostly, if i'm honest, is the ability to say 'i tried this, and if its no good its not my fault, it was a complete experiment!' - lack of confidence on show i guess, but at 5L brewlength not much lost, potentially huge gain.
Anyway, this was chosen for a couple of reasons; first i'd like a different style for Christmas - Mild is supposed to be pretty quick turn around, and i dont have any 'in stock'. Secondly though is my Dad - he's supportive of the 'hobby' but not that interested in the specifics. Maybe he's just that way with beer anyway, but i'd like to make something that actually impresses him - convince him i can actually make 'beer'. Unfortunately (if you will....) he likes bitter. I don't not like bitter, but i'm still at that stage where its a world of wonderous flavours, styles to be copied, ingredients to be experimented with. He's given the thumbs up to the 'experimental pale ale', but its not his thing, thats fair enough.
So, this doesnt really support 'Best Mild', but, this recipe is from his year of Birth. Its a talking point. Hopefully representing something in itself that is enough of a curiosity it'll be interesting to try, analyse together? Who knows. Either way, not much lost, potentially huge gain.
Recipe (should start really doing these properly):
Assumed Efficiency: 65% (actually nearer 70...had to water down a bit - approx 5.5l result)
Aiming @ 3.5% ABV
Mini-bucket kitchen top brew :) Grain
770g Lager Malt (current base malt :/)
20g Barley Flakes (personal addition to up the body issues i've been having with some beers - seems to help, especially w/ lower gravity)
150g Golden Syrup (in place of Invert Sugar - In the boil)
90min Mash @ 66C (ended @ 64)
Sparge @ 77C (Fly sparge over approx 30 mins, straight from kettle) All Bottled Water.
Stopped a little early hitting approx gravity (1.025 - amended for temp). Approx 7.5L
9g Fuggles @ 90
3g Fuggles @ 30
*Golden Syrup in @ 30.
SO4 @ Room temp - currently been 3 days and fermenting nicely. Room relatively warm - approx 20 so may ferment a little hot but fluctuations during day due to central heating. Must. Fix. Brew. Fridge.
1.7L Kettle (yes an actual Kettle!) + 600ml tap water takes temp down to Mash in @ 73 to hit 67 deg C for Mash. 450ml addition = 77C sparge.
Had to add in a little extra water to hit gravity. Currently Ruby Red and very dark (was expecting mild to mean watery...shrug!) and smells incredible - dark cherries or something. Genuinely the best smelling pre-ferment wort i've made.
This is a rewarding hobby. Mainly rewarding with disappointment that you thought you knew what you were doing, but it turns out you didnt, but that in itself leads to greater understanding - most importantly understanding through experience.It's funny how complex something that is actually so simple can be. And how some assumptions you make can turn out to be totally wrong.
The example of my latest revelation: I had read, or maybe just assumed, Bittering hops were just for bittering. As long as you hit the required Alpha Acid level which itself will offset the sweetness of the malt to the right degree, your beer will be balanced. From this i extended my assumption (from reading....) that as all flavour and aroma is lost, you can more or less use any high alpha hop for bittering - the flavours are boiled off and its just...bitter. Of course i failed to consider the fact that if this was the case there probably wouldnt be so many options of bittering hops, and just one standardised, mass produced, cheap product that everyone used for everything. Ah....hindsight.
In addition to this i have a book which handily contains a chart of 'hop substitutions' - Hops similar to each other - useful in a pinch but (only now i consider...) it doesnt state exactly how these hops are similar - or for what purposes - flavour/aroma? Bittering? AA levels? Cone Shape? Geographical origin? - Valid reasons for comparison but in some cases absolutely no help when it comes to the end result.
I should mention here that i have a tendency to bodge things, mainly due to some deep set desire to save money, in this case by substituting ingredients so i dont have to keep stock of everything and assuming the end result will be the same... and partly because i have next to no forward planning skills, and very little patience, so even if i did order up the right ingredients i'd probably get itchy feet and start 'substitute brewing' before they turned up.
I digress. In this case my 4 Shades of Stout Recipe requested Cascade hops for bittering. A curiosity i thought because these are known for their citrussy aroma additions in american IPA (or is it APA now?). I didnt have any (surprise!) but thought as it was just for bittering a 'similar' hop with alpha levels scaled for the same bitterness would suffice. Out comes the book - somehow i ended up at Perle. I knew nothing about Perle - infact Tom's intention to put it in a Lager is the only reason i had any stock. I probably should have looked it up. Ah...hindsight again.
Last night: 3 weeks in the bottle and we have results. A near perfect stout (if a little young...) in body, colour, roastyness, mouthfeel. Finally a success after many substandard stouts! And that bitterness that lingers on the tongue... its like... Air. Like clean, almost minty air. Like drinking distilled water. Is it unpleasant? no. Is it right? no.