Brew Year Resolutions

Yeastie Boys Digital IPA in the Pint Shop...

Twenty Fourteen is over, so it’s time for a bit of introspection, before looking towards what I’d like to achieve homebrew wise in Twenty Fifteen.

With AG #14 sneaked in just before the turn of the year, it meant that for the second year on the trot, I managed to brew six times. Six short of what I wanted, but with most of the early part of the year spent dealing with a shed full of cider, it’s understandable. There wasn’t much in the way of brewing in the Autumn either, which was due to making even more cider. EcoKeg fermenters full of cider... Although at least this year I got my act together with the fermenters, so they’re not in the way.

Even though I didn’t brew as much, or as regularly as I wanted, I still think I brewed my best beer to date. AG #10 – Coronal Mass Ejection: Kohatu, Motueka, Nelson Sauvin tasted absolutey lush, a further subtle tweek to the malt bill should see me happy with this one. While AG #13 – Binary Star: Chinook, Citra gave it a run for it’s money, especially in the aroma department, I’ll have to revist the Binary Star mash temperature, as I think it could benefit from a touch more body.

I don’t think brewing my best beer last year was a coincidence, as there were some notable improvements in technique and process. Proper water treatment for a start, albeit based on old information from Anglian Water, certainly helped although I have a lot more to learn on this subject. In February, I’m going to invest in one of those inline carbon water filter things and send a sample off to Murphy & Son for analysis. This should hopefully result in another step forward in beer quality.

I was also pleased that my first attempt at reusing yeast appears to have been a success. I’ve shied away from buying vials of liquid yeast due to their expense, but if I can reuse the yeast from batch to batch, then this open up a whole new world of yeast strains. EcoKegs... If I’m going to go down this route, then I either need to invest in a stir plate, or build my own. I’ve already bought a gas powered camping stove, as you can’t boil wort for a starter in an erlenmeyer flask on an induction hob.

The biggest thing I would like to change for this year though, is my kit. I really struggle to get a decent volume of beer with the mash tun and boilers that I have. As I have a source of free EcoKeg’s, I’m going to make a HERMS brewery out of some of them. Initially this was a bit pie in the sky and was going to take a while to complete, as I couldn’t afford to buy all the required fixtures and fittings in one go. Then I got a Christmas cheque that was an order of magnitude larger than expected, so not only can I afford all the aforementioned fixture and fittings, I can also afford to buy a couple of Cornelius Kegs too.

The new kit won’t magically appear overnight (although I’ve already started gathering bits and bobs), so I’ve still have to brew on the existing kit for the next few months, while I amass everything I need and put it together. Once that’s done though, I really must make this year, the year I finally brew a Belgian Wit. I’ve been saying I will for the last couple of years, but I never quite seem to get round to it. I’ve had a mad idea that a Gooseberry and Elderflower Wit, with Sorachi Ace, would work, there’s only one way to find out.

Finally, I’m going to brew a shed load of IPA’s, in the US West coast stylie. I’ve been a bit reticent to brew one, mainly as I’ve felt that I don’t know what I’m doing and thus think I couldn’t do one justice; what kind of malt bill do I use, when do I add the shed load of hops? Glass rinser... Luckily for me though, there are a few resources out there if you find yourself in a similar boat. Firstly, there is the Yeastie Boys Digital IPA, which has an open source recipe, so I’m definitely going to have a go at brewing it. As an aside, it’s a beer that I never thought I’d get to try, so imagine my surprise in early December to find it on tap in the Pint Shop, I’m sure I can do a homebrew version justice.

There are other resources too, like this decade old page on the Brew Your Own website, that lsts lots of clone recipes. I’ve also got a homebrew recipe for Mikkeller Green Gold as featured in the The Complete Homebrew Handbook. I wasn’t luck enough to find a copy to buy, but one of the authors kindly send me the recipe via eMail; I really need to try and track a copy down, as there’s recipes for some seriously good beers in it.

My main target for this year though, was to brew once a month, but given summer holidays and cider making, I know this would be impossible. So instead of the target being to brew once a month, the target is to brew a minimum of twelve times during the year. I appreciate that there will be months where I don’t brew and then months where I brew multiple times. That’s life though, at the end of the day, it’s just a hobby and I have to fit it in around everything else. Hopefully though, I’ll achieve at least some of what I’ve planned for the year.

AG #14 – Brown Dwarf: Amarillo, Chinook, Simcoe, Cascade

Thermometer and PH meter readings...

I needed to use up a load of old hops and wanted to try something new, so I decided to brew an American Brown Ale. You’d think that the amount of hops being used was way, way too much, but time has most likely not been kind to them.

As I mentioned in the write up of AG #12, my hop drawer in the freezer was full, so I needed to use up some of my old stock. After having a good rummage around, I felt that I should either use up all of the old open packets of hops or just chuck them. Since I’m not rolling in it, especially around the turn of the year, I decided to use them up.

I can’t remember exactly why I choose to brew an American Brown Ale. It might have simply been a desire to try some malts that I’ve not really used before, especially as some of them will be used in the next few brews too. Or it might just have been a desire to try something new, something that wasn’t pale and hoppy.

Not too sure of what I was doing, I decided to Ask JK what he thought of the recipe I’d concocted:

With his comments in mind, I completely redid the recipe, subbing out the Mild Ale Malt for Weyermann Vienna Malt. To get to a slightly higher original gravity, rather than using half a kilo more Vienna Malt and having some left over, I decided to use up the Weyermann Pilsner Malt that I’d had lying around for a bit.

It wasn’t just the grain bill getting a working over either, as while rummaging around in my mother-in-laws chest freezer, I came across more open packets of hops that I’d totally forgotten about. Given how old most of the hops were, and the state in which they’d been stored, I decided to use an online Hop Alpha Acid Loss in an effort to try an get a better idea of what their current alpha acid percentage (AA%) would be.

Fiddling with the timings of the hop additions and the much lower AA% values, this allowed me to use up all of my open packets of whole leaf hops and still keep the IBUs within the style guidelines (for what they’re worth). It also left enough to properly dry hop the target volume with just over 5g/L and use up all of the remaining Amarillo. I just hope that I’ve used the online calculator correctly, or this will be less of an American Brown Ale and more of a Brown IPA (PDF).

The recipe...

The other thing that JK mentioned was water treatment, so I fired him an email and he sent me back a profile to aim for. I generally use Wheeler’s Liquor Treatment Calculator, which is hosted on the Jim’s Beer Kit website, as you plug your values in, set the target values and it tells you what to add to get there. Except in this case, it didn’t tell me to add anything other than some AMS (CRS), even though you can clearly see on the Cations side that additions are required.

Mash liquor treatment...

All this meant that my Sulphate was too high and out of kilter with the Chloride. This should result in the hops being a bit too forward, when really they need to be balanced with all the malts. My knowledge of water treatment is a bit limited to say the least, so I’m not sure how I get rid of excess Sulphate for future brews. Definitely some reading up required in this area.

I’ve also found that without adding any other water treatment than the AMS (CRS), the mash efficiency suffers and while I hit target gravity in the fermenter, I was about 1¾ litres shy on volume. I know that I couldn’t, safely, get any more wort in the boiler and that losses to hops were greater than planned for, but still, it’s annoying to miss the target volume.

In another first for me though, I pitched the rinsed yeast from AG #13 into this batch. I was very relieved when checking on it the following morning, seventeen hours after pitching, to discover a healthy looking two and a half litres of krausen on top. So while it set off like the clappers, it did seem to be taking it’s time to get down to terminal gravity, so I decided to leave it an extra day before dry hopping.

Update: 03/01/15
I decided to have another go at the dry hopping technique I used last time out. So I boiled up some water and added just enough of it to aid in blitzing the dry hops with the stick blender. The beer was then transferred off the yeast and onto the dry hops, before being put back into the brew fridge.

According to the brew schedule, I wont need any US-05 for the next five brews, but I had another go at rising the yeast anyway. Good practice, even if I don’t use it. I’m not sure when I’ll bottle it, technically it should be Thursday night, but my wife is out on Friday night, so it might just be easier to do it then. Either way, I’m looking forward to trying this one.

Rinsing Yeast

Rinsed yeast...

Two homebrews in quick succession, gave me the perfect opportunity to try reusing the yeast from the first batch in the second.

While packets of yeast aren’t the most expensive of homebrew ingredients, the cost can add up. It also seems quite wasteful to just use them once and then chuck a perfectly good yeast cake down the loo when it’s finished fermenting. I found an post on one of the Jim’s Beer Kit forums about rinsing yeast, so that it could be either repitched immediately, or stored for later use.

I was initially going to attempt to rinse the yeast from AG #12, as I wasn’t going to dry hop it, but due to being a dunce, that idea went out the window. So I decided to try a different way of dry hopping AG #13, so that I could get my hands on the yeast cake, without any dry hop debris. It was make or break, as I’d used my last packet of yeast and hadn’t ordered another with the ingredients for AG #14, so it was this or nothing.

After transferring AG #13 to another bucket, along with the dry hops, I added a litre of boiled and cooled water to the yeast cake and swilred it around to loosen everything up. After leaving it for a while to settle, I carefully decanted most of it into a litre Kilner jar and left it on the kitchen worktop for the night. In the morning, there was two distinct layers in the jar, with the top one still looking quite yeasty.

I popped the jar into the fridge and went to work, working on the theory that the chill would drop more yeast out of suspension and into the bottom layer. When I got home for work, the top layer was much clearer, so I poured it off the thick slurry and down the sink. I sterilised an old milk bottle and my small funnel and decanted the thick slurry from the Kilner jar, into the milk bottle. This was then sealed with a double wrap of cling film and put into the colder of our two kitchen fridges.

Yesterday, I pitched about half of the slurry from the milk bottle into AG #14. It’ll be interesting to see if it works and what, if any, effect it has on the resulting beer.

AG #13 – Binary Star: Chinook, Citra


Sometimes the path to homebrew nirvana is simple and straightforward, other times, is a tortuous experience.

Sometimes I find it difficult to make my mind up, should I do this, or should I do that. Often, I end up chasing my tail, coming up with new idea after new idea, only to become agitated and frustrated and back where I started. Ages ago, I bought enough malt for a couple of brews, one of which was to be in the Binary Star series, the other to start the Nova series.

A lengthy gap in brewing between April and August, sort of put pay to the brew schedule that I had worked out. When I eventually harvested this years homegrown Cascade hops, there simply wasn’t any room in the freezer for them. Especially as there was also 1Kg of hops in there, that I’d kept after sending Adnams a couple of bin bags full for their Wild Hop beer. So I decided that instead of using the malts I had to hand for what they were purchased for, I needed to come up with a couple of new recipes to use up some of the hops clogging up the freezer.

So I settled on AG #13 being a slightly amped up Pulsar, single hopped with a whole bag of 2012 Citra hops that had been hanging around the freezer for ages. I wasn’t overly happy with it though and was endlessly fiddling with the recipe, to the point where I got all frustrated and decided to just brew what I’d originally planned, another Binary Star. So I asked on Twitter what everyones favorite hop to go with Citra was, as I didn’t fancy using any of my homegrown hops:

I wasn’t about to try Graeme’s suggestion of Goldings, but the multiple suggestions for Chinook really pushed my buttons. So in went a Malt Millar order for the hops and some oat husks. With all the sticky mash issues I’ve had, I’m now really reticent to brew without some of these in the mash.

I knew that I was pushing it with the lateness of the order, but orders from the Malt Millar have allways turned up the next day without fail. I knew something was up though, as I didn’t receive the usual early morning txt from DPD with my delivery slot. My order was then flagged as being unable to be delivered, due to a local event, which was news to me. As it turned out, the local event was nothing more than the complete and utter meltdown of DPD‘s Peterborough depot. I eventually received my order five business days late, which pretty much put pay to this beer being ready in time for Hogmanay.

Fermentable Colour Grams Ratio
Crisp Lager Malt 3.5 EBC 3485 grams 87.7%
Thomas Fawcett Pale Wheat Malt 4.9 EBC 326 grams 8.2%
Crisp Cara Gold 15 EBC 161 grams 4.1%
  6 EBC 3972 grams  
Kettle Hop Variety Type Alpha Time grams IBUs IBU Ratio
2013 Chinook Whole 14.8% First Wort 7 8.91 15.37
2013 Chinook Whole 14.8% 15 7 7.3 12.6
2013 Citra Whole 14.8% 15 13 13.56 23.38
2013 Chinook Whole 14.8% 10 10 7.62 13.15
2013 Chinook Whole 14.8% 5 19 7.96 13.74
2013 Chinook Whole 14.8% 85°C steep 27 6.31 10.88
2012 Citra Whole 14.8% 85°C steep 27 6.31 10.88
Other Hop Variety Type Alpha Time grams
2013 Chinook Whole 14.8% dry hop 30g
2013 Citra Whole 14.8% dry hop 60g
  Expected Actual
Volume (in FV) 19 litres 21 litres
Mash 90 mins at 65°C 90 mins at 64.5°C
Original gravity 1.043 (10.6 Brix) 1.044 (10.8 Brix)
Terminal gravity 1.008 1.002 (4.5 Brix)
Attenuation 81% 95%
ABV 4.5% 5.4%
GU/BU ratio 1.35 1.32
Yeast: Safale US-05
Brew fridge: 18°C ±1°C, with two days at 2°C ±1°C before bottling

As this is the first Binary Star since I started using the Brewer’s Friend recipe builder, the values, especially for the IBUs are slightly different. Wheeler’s Beer Engine doesn’t calculate IBUs from first wort hopping, or flame out steeps. So it will be interesting to see if it’s appreciably different in terms of the upfront bitterness, or late flavour.

I’m not sure I’ve got the first wort hopping correct though, as I should have used the large 15 minute addition, instead of the bitterning addition, if that article is to be believed. It’s all new to me though, so if it doesn’t have a load of upfront bitterness, I know what I did wrong and how to correct it for next time.

Other than that, the brew went pretty smoothly, other than overshooting my mash strike temperature by twenty degrees. A slow decant from boiler to bucket and back again, brought the temperature back to where it should’ve been, at the cost of half an hours faffing. I did miss my intended 65°C mash temp, but then that thermometer is well knackered, so I wouldn’t be surprised if I’d hit it, or going slightly higher than it.

I also overshot my target gravity in the fermentor, so I took the opportunity to liquor back with a couple of litres of water. The gravity is still just a touch higher than planned, but that’s fine. It also means that even with losses to yeast and dry hops, I’ll have more beer to bottle at the end of the day. I really should try and work out my brewhouse efficiency one of these days, but it’s nice to plan for slightly less and then have the ability to liquor back.

Update: 17/12/14
I decided to try a slightly different approach to dry hopping this time. In the past I’ve tried with whole hop cones in stockings, blitzing them in the food processor and liquidiser and the results have always been a bit disappointing. I came to the conclusion that I just wasn’t using enough, as it was generally what was left in the packet after the rest had gone in the boiler. So in some cases, not really very much at all.

If you look at JK’s dry hopping rates, I should really having been buying more hops,rather than just using what I had left over. It just so happened that since both the Chinook and Citra had quite high alpha acid percentages, there was enough hops left over to be able to hop at a rate of 4.5g per litre, probably around the correct amount for this beer.

Update: 22/12/14
After sitting at 18°C for three days and then being chilled at 2°C for a further two days, it was time to bottle. I have high hopes for this one, as the smell streaming from the fermentor when I pulled the lid off was immense. It looks l23ike I have a new dry hopping regime, at least until I start using pellets that is.

I made up some primings with 6g a litre of spray malt in a few hundred millilitres of water and boiled it for ten minutes. Then it was just a case of syphoning off the dry hop trub onto the priming, then into the bottles. Twenty four 330ml bottles and twenty three 500ml bottles, so a decent amount to be getting on with.

It’s just a shame it wont be ready for Hogmanay, as was planned. I may open a sneaky bottle just to check how it’s getting on though. Although I expect it will need at least another week after that before it’s open season.

Buxton Moor Top

Buxton Moor Top...

It’s been over four years since I last posted about trying to find the ultimate beer to pair with chips ‘n’ mayo. I’ve been slacking…

My wife and I spent a lovely evening in the ever excellent Pint Shop on Saturday; we were in town to see Russell Howard at the Corn Exchange. As they don’t exactly have many vegetarian options on their menu, we decided to just get some bar snacks, rather than dinning; my wife is a sucker for a Scotch Egg.

I’d had a massive lunch, so just ordered a plate of chips, checking before hand that they weren’t cooked in some sort of unnecessary animal fat, they weren’t. Sitting there dunking my chips into the small bowl of mayo, while emptying my 2/3 pint of Buxton’s Moor Top, I suddenly realised that I hadn’t written a blog about pairing beer with chips ‘n’ mayo for an absolute age. I decided to put that right at the earliest opportunity, so here you go.

Does Buxton Moor Top go with chips ‘n’ mayo? In this instance, I’d have to say no. There was just a bit too much bitterness to cleanse the mouth, no where near as bad as the Port Brewing High Tide though, but it just didn’t particularly go. I’m not sure if it was the chips (skin on), or the mayo (not sure if it was homemade or not) or just the beer (maybe the cask version would have been better), either way, the pairing just didn’t work for me. I ended up just noshing the chips, then finishing the beer.

Only while writing this, did I realise that I didn’t try pairing my wife’s Helsingborgs Funkymonkey with the chips ‘n’ mayo. It felt less bitter, with more fruity notes than the Moor Top, so maybe it would have been a better choice…

AG #12 – Nova: Homegrown Cascade

Homegrown green gold...

With #projectcider out the way for another year, it was time to brew some beer again. I decided I needed to use up some of the homegrown hops in the freezer, so attempted my first American Pale Ale.

I’ve had this recipe ready to go for what seems like months, but finding the time to get it brewed has proved tricky. The brew schedule I’d worked up earlier in the year had me brewing something completely different for AG #12, but I decided to change it when I harvested my hops. There was simply no space in the freezer to put this years harvest, especially as there was half of last years and the year before that’s, still sitting crammed in there.

So instead of brewing what I’d originally planned, another Binary Star, I decided it was high time that I used up some of the homegrown hops, while using the malts I already had to hand to try a few different recipes. I’ve wanted to brew an American Pale Ale for ages, I felt it was the right thing to do, before attempting a proper American IPA.

I’d previous worked up five different recipes, all using last years homegrown Cascade, differing only in their malt bills. The idea being to see which one I liked the best and then move on from there. A great idea in principle, but I’d not realised that most of last years homegrown hops were frozen green. This meant that I didn’t have anywhere near enough for five brews, as you need to use five times as many green hops as you do dried, so that idea went out the window.

Around the same time, the homebrewing community on twitter started going on about Hop Stands, essentially a hop steep after flame out, generally above 80°C. Otherwise known as a flame out steep, or an 80°C steep. Kids… Always renaming stuff. The Beer Engine program that I use for building my recipes in, can’t work out the IBU’s provided by this kind of hop steep, so I looked around and found the Brewers Friend website and recipe calculator, which can calculate IBU’s from a hop steep.

So I spent a few afternoons plugging various combinations of malts and hops into the calculator until I ended up with five recipes (you only get five unless you pay to join) I was happy-ish with. I’d decided that since I had 4.7kg of Marris Otter, I’d use it in trying to make my first American Pale Ale. As this style allows for a small amount of speciality grains, I decided to use up the little CARAMUNICH I that was kicking about. I couldn’t decided if I should also use some CARAPILS or Wheat for head retention and body, but in the end decided not to.

My hop drawer in the freezer contained two bags of homegrown Cascade from 2012, so I decided those should be used up first. One bag, 66g, had been dried in the dehydrator, the other bag, 374g, had been frozen green. I decided to add the 66g bag for a full 90 minute boil to maximise extraction and then add the rest for an +80°C steep. There was to be no traditional flavour or aroma hop additions, a real step into the unknown for me.

Fermentable Colour Grams Ratio
Thomas Fawcett Marris Otter 5 EBC 4,720 grams 96.3%
Wayermann CARAMUNICH I 90 EBC 182 grams 3.7%
  15 EBC 4902 grams  
Kettle Hop Variety Type Alpha Time grams IBUs IBU Ratio
2012 Homegrown Cascade (dried) Whole 2% First wort 66 18.57 61.1%
2012 Homegrown Cascade (green) Whole 2% 85°C steep 374 11.81 38.9%
  Expected Actual
Volume (in FV) 19 litres 18.75 litres
Mash 90 mins at 67°C 90 mins at 68°C
Original gravity 1.053 (12.9 Brix) 1.056 (13.6 Brix)
Terminal gravity 1.010
Attenuation 81%
ABV 5.01%
GU/BU ratio 0.61 0.54
Yeast: Safale US-05
Brew fridge: 18°C ±1°C, with two days at 2°C ±1°C before bottling

My digital thermometer had been knackered a few months before in a random accident and I hadn’t got round to replacing it. I managed to borrow one from Bert, but the batteries had leaked and as I was in such a rush when I picked it up, it wasn’t cleaned up and checked if it was working. I should probably have tried it before switching on the hot liquor tank. (HLT) Luckily, it turnned out that my old digital thermometer wasn’t quite as knackered as thought, you just had to submerged the whole probe and handle and leave it for a few minutes and it’d give you a reading. Not the greatest, but serviceable.

I felt totally unprepared to brew and for some reason, I was late in getting started. It wasn’t until 20:00 that the HLT finally got switched on, so I knew it would be a pretty late finish, just as well that I’d loaded up on caffeine. Everything went pretty smoothly though, although I missed my mash temperature by a whole degree. In my defense, I knew I was adding water from the HLT that was about three quarters of a degree to high and with the shonky thermometer, the temperature reading from the grain to determine the strike temperature, may not have been wholly accurate.

I’d originally considered mashing in at 68°C, before changing my mind at the last moment, and deciding to mash in at 67°C. So hitting 68°C didn’t really bother me, as having a touch more body might be useful depending on what the homegrown hops turn out like. I collected exactly 12.5 litres from each batch sparge, which was made a lot easier by my half litre graduated 15 litre bucket, that I bought for helping with the cider.

As I had issues with run off last time out, even while using oat husks, I decided to use up the remainder of the packet, which was around 400g. I also forced myself to run off each of the two batch sparges more slowly than I have in the past, to try and ensure there was no issues with the mash sticking. There wasn’t and run off was constant and for a change, pretty clear. I may have to start using more oak husks than I have in the past, it’s not like they’re massively expensive or anything.

On the spur of the moment, I decided to try first wort hopping, rather than adding the first load of hops when the boil starts. I left the wort from the first batch sparge in the 15 litre bucket and only when I was ready to draw off the second batch sparge, did I add the wort to the boiler and switch it on. It’ll be interesting to see if I can detect any sort of change in the underlying bitterness or not. I’m also not sure about how this will affect the IBU’s, as when you select First Wort on the Brewers Friend recipe calculator, it gives less bitterness units for that amount of hops.

After 90 minutes the boiler was switched off and the wort allowed to chill to 85°C, which didn’t take long. 374g of homegrown Cascade were then added and left to steep for half an hour, with the boiler switched back on and set to keep the temperature there, or thereabouts. Then the chiller went in and in no time, due to the fact it was baltic in the shed, the wort was down to 25°C, so I transferred it into the fermentor, pitched the yeast, tucked it up in the brew fridge and headed inside to go to bed.

After four and a half hours of restless sleep, I was back up and out to the shed to start clearing up. In a change for how I normally empty the mash tun, I dumped the whole thing into a grain bag suspended over the HLT. This allowed all the remaining liquid to runn out of the grains, so what went into the green bin was much dryer than normal. I also did the same with the spent hops, which allowed me to squeeze all of the liquid out of them too. I’m sure this will help stop the green bin becoming quite so clarty and mean I don’t have to clean it so often.

I did have a couple of issues though, which I can only put down to tiredness. For some reason, I didn’t switch the HTL off when doing the second batch sparge, so part of the element got scorched. I also forgot to turn the boiler off when I put the chiller in, so initially, it didn’t drop in temperature as quickly as it could have. Those issues aside, from an overly stressful start, it turned into a pretty uneventful brew.

I’m not sure yet if I’m going to dry hop it, as I didn’t plan to originally, but I do have half a packet of Motueka pellets that need used up. I might just wait till fermentation is over and have a sample and see what I think. I don’t think I’ve been dry hopping with enough hops to make a difference anyway, so I may just save the Motueka for something else.

Update: 11/12/2014
Sometimes I wonder about my level of intelligence. This beer had finished fermenting and was ready to bottle, but I entered the gravity reading into the wrong box, so confused myself thinking it wasn’t done. Queue lots of hand wringing about a stuck fermentation, multiple rousings of yeast, rushing off to the shops to buy some champagne yeast and finally the dawning realisation that I’d been a complete and utter muppet.

All the unnecessary delays meant that I ended up bottling on the same night that I brewed AG #13, which made for some entertainment with jugling space on the work benches in the shed. The bottling itself was pretty straight forward though, as per normal. The colour looks pretty good and I’m sure the clarity will be excellent as it wasn’t dry hopped.

The only real issue, is that it might not be quite ready in time for Christmas, which was the plan. The extra delay in bottling, means it will only have been in the bottle for two weeks, on Christmas day itself. I’m not sure if this one is going to require another week or so to reach it’s best, we’ll find out on the big day…

Update: 29/12/2014
The labels are all stuck on and I’ve started drinking it. After a mere four bottles, I think I can categorically state, that I got the hopping wrong on this one. I shouldn’t have used the bittering addition for the first wort hops, I should have taken some from the 85°C steep instead.

There’s no real upfront bitterness, no sharp snap, just maltiness. The hops and bitterness do come, but they’re smooth, subtle and late. I think that just doing first wort hops and a 85°C steep, without a bittering addition, is a mistake. It’ll be interesting to see what others think of this one, as I suspect there are some who might quite like it. Me? I not convinced.

Update: 04/01/2015
I’ve drunk a fair few of these now and unfortunately they have all had a really low level of carbonation. I’m pretty sure I put in enough priming sugar before bottling, so I have a nasty feeling that one or two bottles will be hideously over conditioned. Time will tell…

#projectcider: A Descent into Madness, Part Two


In which I ponder on the morals and ethics of scrumping and document my second attempt at making cider, using a hired Speidel apple mill and hydropress.

You’d think that I’d have waited a few days or weeks before thinking about having another go at making some cider, especially after the stress of the first attempt. You’d also think that the the broken crusher and finishing at 03:30 due to chopping apples in a food processor, would have dented the enthusiasm some what. Far from it though, as it was the very next day that I tweeted Virtual Orchard in Milton Keynes to enquire about hiring their apple mill and hydropress.

I figured that if I was going to hire some proper cider making equipment, I may as well make the most of it, so I spent the time leading up to the big day gathering as many apples as I could. I started to raid all the trees I’d found in verges, as well as continuing to go out to the orchard at Childerly. It got to the point where I was out collecting apples for a couple of hours before work and then again for a couple of hours during my hour long lunch break. The rear suspension on my little Saxo was getting a bit of a work out.

Yvan, who now runs the local Jolly Good Beer distribution company, mentioned on twitter that there was another orchard in the village of Over, just to the North West of Cambridge. A quick email to a friend who grew up in Over gave me an approximate location and it was off one lunchtime to see what was what. As it happens, I met Yvan there and he can attest to how, pardon my French, fucking angry I got. An absolutely massive orchard, full of multiple varieties of apple, pear and plums, all going to waste. Plums withered on the trees, tons of pears rotting on the ground and apple trees that hadn’t seen any management in years. I was absolutely seething.

I was conflicted about bothering to try and locate the owner, as it was pretty obvious that they didn’t give a stuff about their orchard, other than having cut the grass at least once that year in some of its segments. Some of it was so overgrown, it obviously hadn’t been tended in years. Don’t get me started on the state of the trees either, whacking great old apple trees that had obviously been shown a lot of love in the past, now with their centres full of small branches crisscrossing every which way; they were an utter mess.

So I went back, day, after day, after day, and filled the boot of the Saxo with buckets and buckets of apple and pears. It did think on more than one occasion, while perched on top of a wobbly ladder and reaching as far as I dared for yet another apple, that I should really have at least tried to contact the landowner. I’ll be honest and say that the more I went back, the less comfortable I became with taking all that fruit, even though it was all going to waste. I half expected to get challenged by some of the early morning dog walkers, or nearby residents, but nobody batted an eye lid.

It wasn’t just scrumping from an orchard I wasn’t 100% comfortable with either. Some of the trees I scrumped from were on the verges of back country roads and looked like they’d been put there on purpose. Yet they weren’t obviously cared for and all the fruit was going to waste. It also wasn’t totally obvious who owned the land they were on either, as they weren’t necessarily next to, or near a house. I think the chances of there being three wildlings in a row for instance, all of the same variety, is infinitesimally small.

Should I take them? Should I leave them to rot? Who do I ask to try and find out who owns them? I know that, in all good conscience, I should try and find out, but most people I talked to about the subject, just seemed happy to know that someone was making use of all the apples, as they normally just see them going to waste.

The ethics and morals of scrumping, are a difficult topic and one worthy of a blog post on their own. I think that what I did at Over orchard, while morally defensible, they were going to waste, was ethically dubious, they obviously belonged to someone and I didn’t even try and find out who. Whatever your opinion on that kind of behaviour, all told I collected around three quarters of a ton, or thereabouts, of apples and pears, the majority of which I did have permission to take.

You may be wondering why I collected the pears, as it’s not like you can make perry out of any old pears (as far as I know), like you can cider from any old apples. The reason is due to the chemical makeup of the pear, it has more sorbitol in it, which doesn’t ferment. So adding some pear juice to the cider must, results in a perceived sweeter cider than you would get with apples alone. So I’d decided to add 15% pear juice to most of the fermentors.

I should probably elucidate on the state of the fermentors at this juncture. At that point in time, I had two fermentation buckets to my name, one with 30 litre capacity, the other with 25 litre capacity. Obviously they wouldn’t be enough to hold the juice from a quarter of a ton of apples, let alone three quarters of a ton. So I begged and borrowed from friends and colleagues and ended up with an assortment of nine buckets, varying from bog standard 25 litre ones, up to a whopping 60 odd litre one. All told, it gave me capacity for somewhere in the region of 270 litres of cider. So that’s what I made.

Lawrence at Virtual Orchard hires out his old mill and hydropress, the very ones he started off with, before upgrading. The hire period is for 24 hours, so if you pick it up at 16:00 one day, you have to have it back at 16:00 the following day. This meant that I was going to lose out on a bit of time, as it takes at least an hour and a half from my house to get to Milton Keynes and the cidery is on the other side of the town from where the A421 dumps you at the M1. So I asked to pick up at 17:00 on a Saturday, I think it was 17:00 and not 18:00, I can’t quite remember.

I’d been stressing during the week about not having enough Sodium Metabisulphite to treat 270 litres of cider and hadn’t left enough time to order any online. Luckily for me, I know the organiser of the Cambridge CAMRA Summer Beer Festival and he said I could have one of the tubs from the beer festival, as they didn’t really get used much. Cue desperately trying to get hold of the chap who was going to let me into the container on the Saturday afternoon.

Needless to say, things didn’t go quite to plan, he didn’t reply to my txt’s, so I waited as long as I could and then just went to see if he was there, he was, no idea why he couldn’t have txt’d me back. It wasn’t like he was just sitting waiting for me though, I had to hang around for an age, while he finished putting some sealant onto a container door. I can’t really complain though, I got a 5Kg tub of Sodium Metabisulphite for nothing. I was quite late getting to Milton Keynes though.

I think I liked Lawrence from the moment I met him, he seemed like a really nice bloke. He happily answered all my inane, clueless questions about cider without any exasperation, while also giving me a few pointers based on his experiences. He also showed me round the unit containing his cidery, very impressive. He’s got a Kreuzmayer washer elevator mill and belt press and can process somewhere in the region of 650Kg to 1250Kg per hour. Lawrence told me, that with two working in tandem, they’d been able to process a ton a day with the kit I was hiring. Quite a jump in productivity with his current setup and a lot less manual effort too.

The following morning I was up bright and early and out into the garden to get cracking. I didn’t quite know how loud the mill would be, so I left it till 08:00 before starting it up and attempting my first press. For some reason I decided that I wanted to see the pomace coming out of the bottom of the mill and if I was busy emptying a trug into the top of it, I wouldn’t see anything coming out. So I loaded the mill with pears and switched it on. Cue a distressed grinding noise and then nothing.

I’ll admit to panicking. I couldn’t believe that I’d knackered a second mill in the space of a few weeks. What was I going to do with all these apple? I rushed inside and checked the fuse box, but nothing had tripped out. In a moment of clarity, I opened the plug, noted the type of fuse and went in search of a similar one in the house. Twenty minutes later, with the fuse from the toaster in place and the mill emptied of pears, I flicked the switch. Thank [insert favoured deity here], the mill burst into life and we were off.

Wow, the Speidel apple mill is a thing to behold. No sooner had a trug of apples or pears been deposited into the hopper, than a trug of pomace appeared at the bottom. It looked nothing like the pomace I’d got from the manual crusher, or the food processor a few weeks before. This pomace was literally leaking juice everywhere and was really, really well milled, without any large chunks. I filled the hydropress to the top and before I’d even switched on the tap to pressurise the thing, I had nearly 5, yes 5, litres of juice in the container below it.

With the manual crusher and basket press, I was lucky to get four litres on a press of 12Kg, with the hydropress, I was getting in the region of 15 litres a press from 30Kg, with minimal physical effort. It was a revelation. Everything happened so fast, from the milling to the pressing and I wasn’t even going as fast as I could have. Lawrence reckoned that you could get four presses an hour in, which I totally believe, especially if there is two of you, one washing and crushing, the other pressing. I was running at about two to three and hour depending on other tasks and just got sucked into a kind of rhythm and ended up stopping trying to document what I was doing, as there just wasn’t the time.

I did try and note down the mix of apples that went into each fermentor though, as they were mostly in separate piles on the patio and all processed together. Other than that though, it was just, wash, mill, press, repeat, until I ran out of fermentors. Only then did I surface for air and take stock.

To help with the distribution of the must amongst the fermentors, I’d been storing the freshly press juice in the spare plastic kegs. When all the fermentors were full, there was still quite a bit of apple and pear juice leftover. I have a load of old brown Grolsch swing top bottles and even older internal screw top Lucozade bottles, that I’ve been given over the years. So I filled all of those with as much juice as I could, with the intention of pasteurising it at the earliest opportunity.

Even after all of that, I still had at least another two presses worth of apples and pears left over. It seemed like such a waste to leave them on the patio, but I literally didn’t have anything to put their juice in. Yes, I could have stored it in one of the kegs for a few days and run out and bought another fermentor, but I just didn’t have any spare money. If I’d had any spare money, I wouldn’t have had to beg and borrow fermentors from friends and colleagues, I’d just have bought a few really large ones before starting all of this.

While there was a feeling of accomplishment for having filled every available container, I couldn’t relax. I had to quickly wash everything down, load the car and get it back to Lawrence in Milton Keynes. I was late again. I was also absolutely knackered, which made the jam packed M1 a barrel of laughs, even though I was only on it for a junction. I got everything back in one piece though and managed to get home safely. I still wasn’t finished for the night though.

After dinner, it was back out to the shed, as I still had to take PH and gravity readings. This also gave me the opportunity to make sure the spreadsheet I had created, was filled out with all the information I could think of at the time. Essentially which fermentors had pear juice in them, which didn’t, which fermentor I’d put 2.5 litres of bramble juice into etc. That last one was quite easy though, as the contents of the fermentor were purple. At this point, I had to stop, I’m not a spring chicken anymore so headed off to bed.

I was up early the next day so I could rearrange all the fermentors in the shed, as I wasn’t happy with how I’d left it. I also had to deal with a paddling pool full of spent pomace. At the time, it seemed like a good idea to fill the kids paddling pool, rather than just dumping it in a pile of brambles between the garden and the paddocks. As that’s where it all ended up, I was cursing my stupidity at not having just dumped it there as I’d gone along. Live and learn though.

When I made the first batch, I’d used packets of cultured yeast. This time I wanted to experiment, so I used some packet yeast, dosed some with a starter I’d made from the dregs of a couple of bottles of Orval and some I just left to do their thing. Depending on which fermentor got which yeast, they were also dosed with a suitable amount of Sodium Metabisulphite. Either enough to either kill everything, or half that amount, so bad stuff would die, but not enough to stop natural fermentation from happening.

I put a fermentor into the brew fridge, made sure the rest were under airlock and sat back and waited for fermentation to start. I waited, and waited, and waited. Nothing. So I removed that fermentor from the brew fridge and put a different one in. I knew it was too cold for those that were sitting the shed to ferment, but I was expecting the one in the brew fridge to get on with it and ferment out. So I increased the temperature from 15°C, to 18°C and sat back and waited again. Still nothing. So the temperature went up to 20°C and I waited again.

I’d just assumed that this batch of cider would ferment as easily as the first batch did. I’d assumed that I would be able to pass each fermentor, except the 60 litres one, through the brew fridge, changing them every two weeks when they’d fermented out. How wrong I was. I ended up putting yet another fermentor in to the brew fridge and bringing two fermentors into the house. This was on the assumption that, if they didn’t ferment in the house, I needed to add cultured yeast to them, rather than trying to reply on wild yeast.

After a month of waiting, one of the fermentors I’d brought into the house finally started to show signs that it was doing something. It didn’t look like a normal krausen, instead, there was green globular lumps suspended in the must and some patches of foam on the surface. I thought that this was it, any moment it would break out and start fermenting. It didn’t though, I had to endure another ten days before it really kicked off. Meanwhile, the fermentor in the brew fridge had also come to life and started fermenting, we were well and truly underway.

What was interesting, was that only one of the fermentors I’d brought into the house had started fermenting, the other hadn’t. My wife was getting rather annoyed at them taking up space in the extension, which has underfloor heating by the way, which may or may not be relevant. She complained most vociferously about the smell, which I didn’t really think was too bad, until I came downstairs one morning to find the second fermentor had finally kicked off. Jings, fermenting cider doesn’t half pong!

I love the smell of fermenting beer, it reminds me of my childhood and getting off the train at Haymarket station in Edinburgh and smelling all the nearby breweries. I do not however, like the smell of fermenting cider and had to make rather a lot of apologies to my wife, who works from home, from the dining table, in the extension. I was not flavour of the month. It wasn’t like I could moved them into the brew fridge either, as it was occupied. So they stayed in the house till the last moment, before being whisked off to the cold of the shed, just before my parents arrived to spend Christmas.

I didn’t bring any more into the house. Partially as I had an inkling that it was too hot for cider, especially with the underfloor heating, but mostly because I didn’t want to get a divorce. For some reason, this batch of cider just wouldn’t ferment at 15°C like the first batch had, even the fermentors that had cultured yeast in them. They also took longer to ferment, one I ended up adding cultured yeast to after it had been sat in the brew fridge for three weeks doing nothing.

I hadn’t bargaining for things taking this long and people were starting to ask for their fermentors back, as they wanted to make their own beer and wine again. So this meant I had to do lots of moving stuff around, or decanting into one of my boilers, cleaning the fermentor and putting the cider back into it. It all depended on the size of the fermentor and if I had a free keg or not. I even gave my brother 20 litres of must from the massive fermentor, the rest was split into two smaller fermentors, when I had to give it back. It was a bit of a stress to be honest and I’m very grateful to those who lent me their kit. I still have a couple of fermentors that I’ve not yet given back (they’ve currently got some of this years cider in them).

It wasn’t until May, after nearly seven months, that the last fermentor spontaneously kicked into life in the shed. I hope that these extended periods where the must has been sitting under airlock won’t have a detrimental affect on the end product, I suppose only time will tell. The main problem with this though, is that of maturation. I was expecting to be able to drink some of each batch this Autumn, after at least nine months or so of maturation. Nine months after May though, is next year and take it from me, cider that hasn’t matured for long enough is vile.

The cider I’d made with the Abbey Community Press had to be bottled before they’d had long enough to mature, as I needed the poly cubes, as I needed some kegs. Due to this early bottling, they hadn’t undergone malolactic fermentation, so ended up being really, really acidic. I didn’t want to make the same mistake with this lot, so I tried everything I could to leave them for as long as I could. With the contents of the last few fermentors finally chugging away though, I was forced to bottle the poly cubes and a keg to make enough room for it all to start maturing.

It was at this point, to my horror, that I discovered the fermentor I’d put some elderflower heads in, had mould growing in it. I hadn’t checked it for a few weeks and one of the heads hadn’t sunk under the surface like all the rest. The fermentor reeked like blue cheese. Twitter to the rescue though and it was soon dosed up with Sodium Metabisulphite and put into a fully evacuated poly cube, where it remains to this day. As it came out of a 30 litre fermentor and the poly cube only holds 20 litres, I bottled the rest.

The reasoning behind this, was to see if it developed an infection, without having to continually sample from the poly cube. If the bottles tasted fine, then there would be no need to dump the whole lot. So far, I’ve had bottles that have been fine and some that have had a bit of a blue cheese pong about them and tasted a bit iffy. I’m going to leave it for as long as I can, then I’ll sample it and see if it’s worth bottling or not. It’s a shame, as the elderflower worked really well with it, especially on the nose.

The bottles from the other batches all exhibit various levels of acidity and yeastiness. I’m assuming that being fermented in the house and being warmed by the underfloor heating, hasn’t done them any favours. I find two of them quite hard to drink, unless they are sweetened, not to counter any acidity, but to counter the dryness and yeastiness. The third isn’t quite as dry, or as yeasty, and I can manage on it’s own, although I have had to doctor a couple of bottles. All three appear to have undergone malolactic fermentation, as they’re no where near as acidic as the first lot.

There is still 150 litres of cider maturing in the shed, five 25 litres kegs, one 20 litres poly cube and a 5 litre demijohn. The demijohn is an out and out experiment, with the cider maturing on the soles I made last years Sloe Gin with. Evidently this is a thing and the end result is called Slider. Another experiment I would like to try is dry hopping, so I need to buy some Brambling Cross hops to add to the one that I added the bramble juice too. Mainly though, they’re all just sitting there maturing for as long as I can give them. Eventually I’ll bottle them, probably in batches, as I don’t have enough of the right size and shape of bottle to do them all at once.

I learnt a lot making all this cider, mostly that you need to have patience. Lots and lots of patience and lots of fermentors. I also learnt that it’s important to have the right mix of apples, as using all cookers, results in an overly acidic cider, especially if it isn’t matured for long enough so it undergoes malolactic fermentation.

You’ll be able to find out what happened when I decided to make some more cider this year, in part three of my decent into madness. Where in, I bypass morally defensible behaviour and in desperation head straight past ethically dubious too; I’m not proud.