12 Month Appraisal

Twelve months ago, I was in the process of assembling a list of kit to embark on my home brew adventure. Here’s what I’ve came up with so far:

  • #1 – US Pale Ale, fairly high gravity, unfined, slightly luminous colour but a solid start
  • #2 –Pilsner. Almost overreached myself with this complicated recipe but good results, a little thick for a pilsner but not bad.
  • #3- Accidental Stout. Well sort of a stout but this one was a relief more than anything as I thought I’d cocked up completely. Need to come back to stout properly in the future.
  • #4- Earl Gray IPA. This was a hit, cold brewed tea added to the wort after the boil and citrus hops. Only issue was I didn’t make enough.
  • #5- Bitter Failure. If #3 was a hit, #4 was a sad miss. Lesson learned: Don’t dump ice into the wort to cool. I still have a few bottles left of this, it never quite improved.
  • #6- Pilsner 2.0. Same recipe as the first, but refined the method, including the purchase of a proper wort chiller. Very passable Czech style pilsner.
  • #7- Sorachi Ace IPA. First crack at a single-hop IPA. Along with the Earl Gray, this is my joint favourite so far.
  • #8- Bitter Success. After the abject failure of the first attempt at an English Bitter (#5), I did much better this time. Goldings and Fuggles aplenty, it doesn’t blow your mind but drinkable and not rancid!

As mentioned in my last post, life took a few happy but unexpected turns through 2015 with a new job and my wife falling pregnant with our first. As such, my brewing rate did slow somewhat but with 8 brews in a year, that’s not bad is it? I’m pleased to say little Henry made an appearance in March and is doing well so as we are getting settled, I’m going to get on with some more brews.

Whilst I was deciding what to do, the fab people at Brewdog selflessly released the recipes for their entire back catalogue of beers, all free, open source, and scaled to Home Brew amounts. (The book is available here) I have chosen three to be getting on with: Dead Pony Club (a favourite of mine), Alice Porter (which I hope to leave to mature for a few months) and TM10. The last one is a limited edition saison brewed as part of the Tate Modern’s 10th anniversary in 2010. it was only available in the museum and I never got to try it. I’ve not brewed a saison yet so this is hopefully going to be a good beer for the summer, if it comes! I’ll update on the progress of this and life in general as it happens.

Cheers for Now!


Beer and Life Update

I started off with the best intentions of writing this blog fairly regularly and I thought I was, but having just logged in, I can see that my last post was some five months ago. Life has sort of been a whirlwind since then; I was given a promotion in work with the inevitable increase in stuff to do and at home, my wife is expecting our first child (due in March) so my internet usage has shifted somewhat from beer and brewing to researching how to look after a small human. Not that anyone seems to have missed my witty insights into my experiences as a novice home-brewer, no emails or petitions demanding a new entry from me (pause for sympathetic noises, and continue).

Anyway, whilst all these life changing events have been unfolding, I have still been brewing. I left you all on the edge of your seats back in June, about to produce an Earl Grey IPA. This turned out not too bad at all. As a tea drinker, I know that over-brewed tea can be quite acrid so I was a bit stuck how to impart tea flavour without harsh flavours. I read about one brewer who used cold-brewed tea and after reading up on it, decided to try it out. Essentially, the tea (you can also do this with coffee) is steeped in cold water in a fridge for a long period ( mine was about 24 hours) and you end up with cold tea, but with heavily reduced tannins meaning  the flavour is much smoother. I made up the wort with a standard IPA malt base, using not overly large amounts of citra hops. At cooling, I dumped in my cold-brewed tea (about 5l of the stuff) which brought the temperature down pretty quickly. After primary fermentation, instead of dry hopping, I “teabagged” the beer (I know, got to think of another name for this). This involved not what you are thinking, but instead getting about 150g of earl grey tea leaves and wrapping them in a muslin cloth. This oversized teabag is then dumped in the beer until bottling. The resulting beer has been great, very easy drinking with a definite flavour of earl grey.

Next I moved on to a more traditional ale, using English hops and adding terrified wheat to the base malts for body. I was following a recipe this time for a Black Sheep clone, but in honesty, it didn’t work out. When I first tried it, about 2 weeks in the bottle, the taste wasn’t pleasant. It wasn’t off but there was a taste there. I used far to much Irish Moss and I do wonder if that was part of it, whether it tastes a wee bit fishy. I also played around with cooling by dumping ice in the wort to bring down the temperature, which possibly led to off flavours too. Colour wise, it was very dark, too much dark malt in it, and despite the wheat, didn’t have a lot of body or head, it was almost the colour and consistency of cola. Three months on, the taste has thankfully improved a lot, and it is drinkable, not amazing but ok. The body has slightly improved but the head is not up to much still. Chalk that one off to experience.

Following the disappointment of the last one, I planned another pilsner which worked out very well. After the temporary insanity of the ice-in-the-wort fracas, I invested in a copper wort chiller. This is an amazing device and would recommend to anyone. Slight snafu with its first run when the outlet disconnected from the coil resulting in a bit of extra tap water getting in the wort but luckily it was fine. I learned a few lessons from the last pilsner and got the wort in the fridge sooner, then left it in the fridge for about a month after fermentation stopped before bottling. The result is a much lighter flavour, no fruity notes. It’s a bit darker than I was expecting, not sure why as I only used pilsner malt. Anyhow, it is a success.

Finally, buoyed by my success with the pilser, I made an IPA. Fairly straightforward malt mix, hops predominantly were Sorachi Ace. I bottled it last weekend so it’s not ready for a final taste yet, but I did sample it at bottling. It’s more bitter than the first IPA I made but well within the range I like. The body seems better than the first one I made, which was maybe on the thick side, this seems to be lighter. It has topped out at 8% though which is higher than anticipated, not a session beer.

So there we are, in five months I have a new job, baby on the way and four new beers to my back catalogue. Not sure what I am going to make yet but will update everyone soon.

Cheers for now.

2 Month Review

IMG_1958  IMG_2138IMG_2140

How time flies when you’re brewing! Two months ago, I was preparing to get my first brew on. Now I have three very different but equally enjoyable beers to my name. I have learned a lot in a short amount of time. I would not presume to advise others being at such a novice level myself, but aside from the technicalities of brewing (“how to” type stuff) these are some of the things I have learned:

1) I’m not getting bogged down by science

 Brewing is science, lots of chemistry, biology and physics at work together. I know it is important to be aware of this but making beer in a kitchen, I personally don’t want to get too fixated on the science. I have a university degree in a scientific subject so I understand the science okay, I’m just not convinced such focus at this level of brewing has a great deal of benefit. So I’ve decided not to test the pH of my water, use buffers etc. I think there are that many uncontrollable variables in the home compared to a commercial set up, I would be driven mad attempting to control them.

 2) The internet is awash with resources, sometimes too much!

 The internet is a marvellous place for brewing, I have been able to reach out and discuss all matters beery with men and women across the globe. Brewers are a generous lot and so many people share for free their experience, expertise and resources. I have found brewing software particularly helpful, open source programs which help build recipes and give pretty good results with predicted taste, colour, abv etc.

There can however be too much of a good thing and ask 10 homebrewers their advice on something, you are liable to get 10 very different answers, all credible but different. My approach has been to read what people have to say but really just throw myself in and see what happens.

 3) Time is a healer

 As proven particularly with my last brew, I have quickly learned not to be put off by what seems to be a failed brew. Time is very generous, rough flavours can smooth off, good flavours can enhance (although it is important to note that some very hoppy style IPAs can fade so time isn’t always good but hey, just drink quicker.)

 4) Don’t Panic

 My first brew saw me transform from a level headed, kinda chilled person to a nervous wreck, something akin to a new parent bringing their baby home from the hospital for the first time. I would stare at the airlock convinced the yeast were all dead. I wouldn’t say I completely do not worry anymore but I have learned that once the airlock is in, what will be will be so leave it well alone and try and think about something else, such as what to brew next.

 So there I am two months and three beers into by Homebrew adventure. I’ve still only scratched the surface and can’t wait to get more beers on the go. Speaking of which, Brew #4 will be going on this weekend. As yet untitled, it will be a pale ale featuring earl grey tea. I’m not planning overly for this one (why break that habit now?) but am going to cold brew the tea, I know that much. Updates on this when they come.


Brew #3 Accidental Stout


Out and about shopping in a garden centre on a Saturday afternoon, my wife completely unprompted, said “Shall I take you to the homebrew shop and get you some stuff to get a new beer brewed.” (My wife is amazing, I know). At this point, my focus was on the pilsner currently in secondary at that point. I had spent a bit of time researching my first two beers but this time, I had half an hour before we got to the shop to decide.

As a starting point, I thought of something my dad would like. He likes all ales but will usually plump for a traditional English Bitter. I found a recipe which purported to be similar to Doom Bar. It had Pale malt, crystal and roasted barley. Hops were northern brewer, perle and northdown. Seemed straight forward although there were no weights, hop schedule etc. given. My homebrew shop didn’t have perle hops but challenger are apparently a good substitute.

Following the “make it up as I go along” strategy that was successful in my first brew, I set about mashing and boiling. Hops were slightly more of a challenge as the three types were in different forms. I had one in leaf form, one in pellet and the third in a sort of compressed brick, so a bit of research needed as to how one goes about using these types. Couldn’t really find much information on this so just used them gram for gram the same.

Initial results were not promising. My wort was inky black, not a dark caramel colour I was hoping for.  Clearly too much roasted barley.  Then there was the taste. I know unfermented wort is not something anyone in their right mind would actively enjoy drinking; however, my previous two efforts were not unpleasant. This batch tasted horribly acrid, possibly the tannins, I don’t know but it wasn’t pleasant. “Oh well,” I thought, bound to have a duff batch sooner or later. After checking the starting gravity, I dropped and smashed my hydrometer in the sink. The beer gods were not smiling on me.

Forever the optimist however, I still put it in the fermenter bucket, pitched the safale yeast and left it for a week. After buying a replacement hydrometer, I took a sample, it was sitting around 5%abv. I had 18litres of something alcoholic at least. I tentatively tried a sip, braced for some awful, sharp, boozy bog water. But no, it was drinkable. Not only drinkable but even in its flat state, it was quite nice, slight coffee and caramel notes with a good amount of bitterness, completely black in colour. I had made a stout!

After bottling, I have recently tried one or two and it is not bad at all. It isn’t as creamy perhaps as others I’ve tried but then its also slightly lighter in body because of this making it an easy drink. Beer gods, why did I ever doubt you?

Brew #2 Electile Dysfunction


As mentioned in previous posts, I had tried to make a pilsner. Foolhardy you may think given my extreme novice status as a brewer; however I think I made a good stab at it.

Brew day was 7th May 2015 (General Election day in the UK, hence the name).It’s predominantly Czech Pilsner Malt with a little Crystal. Hops wise, just Saaz. The only other thing was a bit of Irish Moss at the end of the boil. The process wasn’t too difficult, the main issue was keeping the temperature low and fairly constant. There are lots of differing methods and temperatures given on the internet, but I just followed the pitching temperature and fermentation temperature range given on the yeast packet (2x packs of SafLager). I left it indoors for about 48 hours to make sure it had gotten going before sticking it in my garage where it sat at a fairly constant 10oC (give or take a couple of degrees) for a week. I racked to a secondary fermentation bucket after that and stuck it in the fridge for another couple of weeks.

Once out of the fridge, I left it at room temperature for a day before bottling. Final gravity readings suggested it was 5.8% abv. Learning from my first brew, I started with a greater volume at boil as I didn’t really appreciate that the gunk at the bottom of the bucket would mean leaving a little bit of liquid unusable. That meant I had a pretty much spot on 15 litres of usable beer to bottle (helps keep the OCD in check!) After bottling, I left them at room temperature again for a day, then into the garage fridge for a couple of weeks.

I have tried a couple and the results are pretty. The flavour is balanced, nice bit of sparkle (I would probably add a bit more priming sugar next time to take the carbonation up a notch) and it definitely is best straight out the fridge on a warm day. Clarity is good too, not something I was concentrating on so this bit was a fluke, but happy nonetheless.

Cheers for now

Post Mortem of Brew #1: Success it seems.

photo (3)

I recently cracked open a bottle of my first run and it seems to have worked. It was a good start when opening the cap was met with a healthy chsssshhhk noise indicating it was indeed fizzy. The body was quite light tasting, lighter than I thought with the alcohol level (just short of 7%). Taste wise, the hops are not overpowering but definitely there; with those tropical citrusy notes, definitely in keeping with my target of an American style IPA. There is a very slight hint of sweetness but balanced out by the bitterness. I think I can officially call it beer, although I’ll leave it for a few more days before I try it again, but not too long so I lose that hoppy loveliness.

I’m slightly surprised it worked if I’m honest. I have to confess that whilst I stated previously I followed and American style pale ale recipe, I sort of cobbled together the recipe myself. One of the beers I most enjoy is Dead Pony Club/Ale by Brewdog so I wanted something in the same ballpark. I found a picture of a chalkboard from a Brewdog bar listing their beers along with the grain and hop contents, although absolutely no proportions. This led me to find a standard IPA recipe, which I substituted the Dead Pony grain and hops, although the grain types were mostly the same. It was the hop schedule I struggled with. I tried to order and time them by substituting the template hops with my own, using relative IBUs as a rough guide. I got a bit lost with this and found myself slightly making it up as I was going along. Making up a recipe is probably not advised for a person’s first ever home brew. I also used my first attempt to try dry hopping, without really knowing what I was doing. I should have followed an actual recipe but the initial results are very good and I had fun doing it, so I think I have dodged a bullet. For anyone interested, the recipe is here.

Finally, an update on Brew #2. My pilsner is at target gravity and has been racked to secondary. I’ve put the fermeter in the fridge where it looks to have cleared up nicely. Will think about bottling soon.

Brew#1: American Style Pale Ale (BIAB)

Start Volume: 21l

Final Volume after Boil: 15l

4.5kg Pale Malt

200g Caramalt

200g Crystal Malt


70 minutes @ 67oC

 Boil (60 mins Total)


Citra (10g) 60 mins

Mosaic + Citra (20g each) 20 mins

Simcoe (20g) 5 mins

Plus 10g each of the above for dry hopping


SafAle US-05 (11.5g)


OG         1.070

FG          1.018

ABV =    6.83%


The mash and boil schedule were carried out as above. Cooling to pitching temperature (25 oC) was done in the bath with lots of ice and water. The yeast packet stated it could be pitched directly into the wort; however, I rehydrated in 200mls of boiled and cooled water before pitching. I left the wort in a fermentation bucket with bubbler airlock at room temperature. The fermentation slowed after about 4 days and on day 5, I added the 30g of mixed hops tied in a muslin square. I left this for a further 5 days and bottled (10 days after brew day).

One Out, One In

I think I may have been bitten by the brewing bug. I don’t think I’ve had this much angst about anything for a long time. I am spending hours poring over blogs, fora and guides to brewing and equal time staring at my fermentation bucket trying to use some hitherto undiscovered telekinesis to sense how my beer is doing. I am quickly realising though that information overload is a problem. Not focussing on one thing has caused me to not appreciate the variability of final gravity ( I thought all fermentations should get to about 1.010 which in turn has caused a particular worry that fermentation was stuck at about the 1.018-1.019 region. Having gone back over things, my choice of grain, the boil volume and original gravity suggest that is exactly what my final gravity should be. With no further change, I did my first bottling session yesterday. I bought a second bucket with a “Little Bottler” device attached and racked from my fermenter into there along with my priming solution. With my wife kindly lending a second pair of hands it was all quite straightforward. I bought one of those bottling devices with the two levers, rather than one requiring hammering and bar a few minor spillages, it went well and I now have my beer conditioning in the garage, one step closer to being enjoyed. I did try a bit too and it was promising, I had dry-hopped for the last couple of days so you can really taste those big American hop flavours, nicely bitter but can do with some rounding off that a bit of conditioning will hopefully give it. FG of 1.018 I think equates to around 6.7%ABV so moderation is the key with this one. The other sign that I have become a little obsessed is that the empty fermenter called me to be filled again so as I have a day off from work, I drove to Glen Brew in Glasgow, bought a load of pilsner malt, some saaz hops and lager yeast and have spent the afternoon boiling up Brew #2. OG is around 1.05 which will hopefully produce a more easy drinking brew. Received wisdom is that one should not attempt lager/pilsner until properly experienced, but then I thought about a book by Sir Richard Branson entitled, “Screw It, Let’s Do It” and went ahead. (I’ve not read said book so am unsure whether he had homebrewing in mind but I like to think with that beard, he will appreciate craft beer!) I need to now not think about brewing for a while before all available space is taken up with beers at various stages of life, but then I do have a recipe for a porter I would like to try…. Cheers for Now

Are sour enthusiasts ruining craft beer?


Hops are not our biggest problem

Within the craft beer community, much has been debated this past year over severalpieces addressing the current industry and market obsession with hops. True to the American consuming nature, we do enjoy big and brash over subtle and nuanced in almost everything from automobiles to food to politics to music and film. Driven by West Coast breweries, we lust after the bold, pungent citrus and resin flavors of high-alpha hops, ramping IBUs up past anything considered reasonable by the previous generation of brewers and consumers — who did exactly the same to their predecessors, dating all the way back to the birth of modern craft beer.

To answer this oft-asked question, no, hops and their fans are not ruining craft beer. As a fundamental ingredient in our favorite beverage, one cannot use “too much” hops any more than one can use too much malt or too much yeast. The…

View original post 992 more words

Update on brew#1

I’m 5 days into fermentation now and a replacement airlock arrived today. I was a wee bit worried that the faffing around with the broken airlock on Sunday may have spoiled things before they really got going. I know I shouldn’t have but while I was swapping out the new airlock, I took a sample to put me out of my misery.

Firstly, it takes like beer which I am happy about. It has a slightly sharp aftertaste but that’s not a worry so early in.

Secondly, the colour has lightened hugely since Sunday. The wort went in very dark and now it is a nice gold colour, cloudy but gold!

Lastly, the gravity has come down, not to target FG yet, but at 1.19 it’s working out currently at a touch over 6%. That’s somewhat stronger than I was after (I was looking for about 5%) but hey ho, if stronger than expected beer is the worst problem with my first batch, I’ll take that!

cheers for now