How Not To Build A Brewery

The eagled eyed amongst you, will have noticed that there hasn’t been much homebrew activity on the blog lately. There’s reason for that…

I last brewed in August 2015 which seems like an awfully long time ago. Things didn’t quite go to plan and the element in my main boiler burnt out, welding the plug into the socket. As I ran a three vessel setup, I just switched to using my HLT as the boiler and the brew continued.

Ecokegs waiting to be processed

Shortly thereafter, I was asked by the company I worked for at the time, to brew some beer for a couple of events. Great, I thought, the chance to foist a range of new wave hoppy beer on an unsuspecting workforce. So I readily agreed.

There were two small problems though. Firstly, I agreed to produce about 100 litres of beer, four different styles, bottled in 330ml bottles. Even if I repaired my knackered boiler, I wouldn’t be able to get 25 litres into the fermentor, let alone out of it. I needed to upgrade.

Secondly, I had about three weeks to upgrade the brewery and brew all four beers. Essentially I was going to have to rebuild the brewery and then brew four evenings on the trot and cross my fingers that they’d all ferment out in time and condition in the bottle. It was always going to be a stretch, but I had a plan.

Insulating the mash tun

As always, there was an elephant in the room, money, or lack there of. I never seem to have any, so there was no way of throwing vast wads of it at The Malt Miller or Brew Builder in exchange for some ready to go stainless steel.

As I would have to do this on the cheap, I decided to use Ecokeg outer shells. I’d been using them to ferment my cider in, as they’re made from food grade plastic. With some simple modification, they can hold 55 litres, or there about. I wouldn’t be the first to use them for brewing beer either, they seemed like the ideal solution.

Modifying a workbench to see if I can fit the Ecokegs on it

Luckily, I know Yvan, of Jolly Good Beer fame. So I soon had a stack of Ecokegs sitting in the garden needing modified. He’d even managed to find one that didn’t have the usual holes in the bottom, so I earmarked that one to be the mash tun.

I should also thank James of The Axiom Brewing Co, for all the hints and tips he gave me. Especially about where to get and how to modify, immersion heater elements, for use in the HLT and boiler. Shame I couldn’t make them fit the Ecokegs. Due to all the lumps and bumps, and the size of the element flanges, there was nowhere they would fit.

Trying to find the locations for all the fixings

I should really have worked this out before modifying the elements, but there you go. So more thanks are due to Steve Flack, another local home-brewer, who had a couple of Brew Builder 3KW LWD elements going spare at a good price. These fitted, just. It would probably have been a lot easier, and cheaper, to fit a couple of 2.4KW kettle elements and be done with it.

As it turned out, one of the elements was faulty, it leaked through the base and into the shroud cover; ever so slightly deadly. This was a set back, but not insurmountable, as the other element worked fine. Brew Builder was excellent and changed the element without quibble, even after it got lost in the post on its way back to them.

A modified immersion heater element

As the inside of an Ecokeg is rather lumpy, I knew I wouldn’t be able to buy an off the shelf false bottom for use in the mash tun. I also didn’t fancy trying to bend some pipe into a circle to make a manifold. So instead, I bought a large grain bag, the kind used for BIAB. This seemed like a simple solution to the problem.

As well as bag for the grain, I also needed a way of filtering the hops in the boiler. I really wanted to switch from whole hops to pellets, but knew I’d need something other than my existing hops strainer. I contacted The Malt Miller to ask about their bazooka filter:

Long story short, I ended up buying two of the MattMill Läuterhexe, one for the mash tun and one for the boiler. They didn’t quite fit into the grove at the bottom of the Ecokegs, and while I could have shortened them to fit, I decided not to. I’d like to go stainless one day, and would rather they fit the stainless pots properly.

The faulty element; drip, drip, drip...

The Läuterhexe came with a ½” Tee, a large nitrile washer and a ½” to 1″ male to female connector. The connector wasn’t stainless, but I had no time, or money, to swap it out for a stainless equivalent. The female side of the connector just so happened to be the perfect size for those cheap black plastic taps, that you normal see on a fermentor.

As the connector wasn’t deep enough to engage the washer around the tap, I butchered some swing top bottle washers to fit into the base of the connector. This all looked liked it had worked, but it turns out that under pressure, the butchered washers were rolling into the tap. Cue a lot of mopping up, and the industrial application of plumbers PTFE tape.

Läuterhexe and 3KW LWD element fitted to the boiler

Time has a habit of slipping away, there always other stuff to do. I ended up blocking a weekend out and taking the Monday off work to try and get it all finished in time. I nearly made it, but just missed my self imposed cut off time. Which is probably just as well, as I was knackered from three long days of head scratching, chopping, drilling, screwing and running around local shops trying to find missing parts.

The extra time did give me the opportunity to pop to a local electrical wholesaler and pick up one of those IP66 weatherproof outdoor switches. I’d been controlling the pump by either putting the plug into, or pulling the plug out of, an extension reel. It didn’t feel that safe, with the cables all over the shed floor and me with wet hands.

This was not supposed to happen

After work on the last day I could possibly start, I filled the boiler up with water, added the water treatment and turned the element on. While waiting for that to hit strike temperature, I wired the pump up the the switch. Hoses all in place to recirculate into the boiler and avoid hot sports, I flicked the switch and blew all the electrics.

Not only had I tripped the consumer unit in the shed, but I’d taken down one of the downstairs rings as well. The extension and kitchen were in darkness and all the appliances were off. I tried flicking the RCDs in the main consumer unit back on, but they were immediately tripping out again, even though the shed was still off.

A bodged together extractor hood for the boiler

It was at this point, that I realised that the shed, even though it’s got a 63A RCD in its consumer unit, comes into the house via one of our external garden sockets. Rather than then going straight to the consumer unit, it goes though a switched fused spur connection unit. To say that the fascia was hot, would have been a gross understatement. I’m surprised it wasn’t melting.

I popped the fuse holder and disposed of the slightly charred 13A fuse. I then went back to the main consumer unit tried flicking the RCD back on. Rather than restoring power to half of the downstairs, it proceeded to blow all the downstairs RCDs. While my daughter enquired why the telly had gone off, I ran around the downstairs like a headless chicken screaming FUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUCK!

Not the ideal pump configuration

In the end, out of sheer desperation, I just slammed the fuse holder back into place, without a new fuse in it. The RCDs appeared happy with this development and power was restored. The switched fused spur connection unit remains fuseless to this day. Needless to say, the brew was scrubbed.

Fast forward to February 2017 and not much has changed, the shed is still without power. The shed roof felt has failed and needs replacing; so all the equipment is gathering dust, while being dripped on every time it rains. There’s 39KG of malt, still sealed in their plastic bags, stored on the shed floor in large cardboard boxes and a whole freezer shelf is taken up with sliver vac packed hop pouches.

¾" Camlock fittings

While it’s all a bit depressing, it’s not for want of trying. We’ve contacted loads of electricians, but they either don’t show up to have a look, or they wont give us a quote once they’d had a look.

So I’ve decided enough is enough, it’s time to get back to brewing. For the last month or so, I’ve been meticulously planning a new three vessel stainless brew house. I’ve even taken delivery of various stainless fixtures and fittings and have more on the way. One way or another, I will be brewing again this year.

While I’m dolling out thanks, I really need to thank Bert Kenward more than anyone else. Without Bert’s generosity, (pumps, plate chiller, fermentors, fixings, thermocouples etc, etc) this whole upgrading endeavour wouldn’t be possible. Thanks Bert!

AG #15 – Kuiper Belt: Pluto – Charon Binary

Ah, the best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men… Again. Sometimes it seems like my adventures in homebrewing take two steps forward and then immediately, three steps backwards. I was hoping to have at least six to seven brews completed by this point in the year, not my first.

Brewing in the winter hasn’t been particularly good for the shed, as without an extractor system, the condensation is horrific. So I made a decision not to brew again until I’d bought and fitted an extractor system, expecting to have it all done and dusted in a few weeks. Fast forward to August and the system was still sitting in a box in the corner of the shed, although I’ll blame my lack of action on the fact that I finally decided to get a new job and not that I just couldn’t be arsed.

AG #15 - Kuiper Belt - Pluto - Charon Binary

It’s not that I hadn’t wanted to brew, I’d just been putting all my energy into the new job, so there was just a general lack of arse about beer, brewing, the blog and various other things. The lack of homebrew started to grate somewhat though and I figured that drinking various Greek lagers for two weeks on holiday, would see me desperate for something with hops in it upon my return; so I finally extracted the finger and got the extractor system fitted.

I’d love to say that the brew went swimmingly, but it felt like I’d forgotten pretty much everything, including the fact that my thermometer was knackered and that I don’t have a PH meter. It didn’t help that my main boiler burned itself out and welded its plug to the socket, while bringing the mash water up to strike temperature. I’d been wondering what the burning smell was and it wasn’t until I filled the mashtun and saw the blackened element, that I realised what had happened. I’m just glad that I had two boilers, as it meant that I could continue using my old one and complete the brew.

My old boiler is a litre or so smaller than my now defunct main boiler, so it meant that the first part of the boil was squeaky bum time, as it looked like it was going to boil over at any second. I really need to get my new EcoKeg brewery built, so I have a boiler large enough to hold over thirty litres, so I end up with a decent amount in the fermenter; 18 to 19 litres just isn’t enough. I might try a double brew next time, just so I end up with twenty five litres in the fermenter.

The rest of the brew passed without incident and I closed the door on the brew fridge, with eighteen and a half litres of wort in the fermenter at around half past one. The beer wasn’t quite the one I was planning on brewing, but I still need to buy a couple of things before I can brew my White Shield inspired effort. Since this was going to be a cobbled together brew, I decided to try using Vienna Malt again, but without all the other highly flavoured malts, so I could determine if I liked it as a base malt. I also decided to try using a different brand of yeast, to see what it was like too.

Update: 07/09/15
Two weeks of drinking various Greek lagers, did indeed see me return with a craving for some hops, who’d have thunk it! The beer had happily carbonated in the shed while we’d been away, although I’d neglected to print and apply any labels. the Vienna malt certainly makes its presence felt, lending a sweetness and distinct flavour to the beer. The homegrown Cascade hops maybe weren’t quite up to the challenge of competing with it and the yeast though, as there’s just not quite enough flavour from them to balance it out.

The Mangrove Jack US West Coast yeast is an interesting one though, I was expecting it to be very similar to US-05. I’m not sure if there was a slight issue with the brewing process, the fermentation, or if the yeast is just supposed to be like that, but you can definitely taste it in the beer, it’s not as clean as I was expecting. As I said though, it maybe there was an issue with the brewing process which has thrown this flavour, rather that it being the fault of the yeast. Only brewing with it again will answer that question though.

Brew Year Resolutions

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

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

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 like I have a new dry hopping regime, at least until I start using pellets that is.

I made up some primings with 6g per 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.

AG #12 – Nova: Homegrown Cascade

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…

AG #11 – Binary Star: Nelson Sauvin, Citra

This brew was originally supposed to have happened at the start of July, mainly so I could enter it into the Thornbridge, Waitrose homebrew competition. Best laid plans and all that though; my entry into home brewing competitions will have to wait.

I’m normally quite excited when I get to homebrew, but for some reason I really wasn’t feeling like it for most of the day. I was very tardy in setting up and could’ve and should’ve, started a couple of hours earlier. I was also home alone with the kids, so had to juggle the brewing with looking after them, which complicated matters somewhat. This is the recipe, which is essentially the same as AG #09, except for the hops:

Fermentable Colour Grams Ratio
Crisp Lager Malt 3.5 EBC 3269 grams 87%
Thomas Fawcett Pale Wheat Malt 4.9 EBC 326 grams 8.7%
Crisp Cara Gold 15 EBC 161 grams 4.3%
  5 EBC 3756 grams  
Kettle Hop Variety Type Alpha Time grams IBUs IBU Ratio
2013 Nelson Sauvin Whole 12.3% 90 8 15 30%
2013 Nelson Sauvin Whole 12.3% 15 9 8 15%
2012 Citra Whole 14.8% 15 12 12 25%
2013 Nelson Sauvin Whole 12.3% 10 12 8 15%
2013 Nelson Sauvin Whole 12.3% 5 22 8 15%
Other Hop Variety Type Alpha Time grams
2013 Nelson Sauvin Whole 12.3% 80°C steep 20g
2012 Citra Whole 14.8% 80°C steep 20g
2013 Nelson Sauvin Whole 12.3% dry hop, days 7 to 11 29g
2012 Citra Whole 14.8% dry hop, days 7 to 11 18g
  Expected Actual
Volume (in FV) 19 litres 20 litres
Mash 90 mins at 65°C 120 mins at 65°C
Original gravity 1.040 (9.8 Brix) 1.042 (10.3 Brix)
Terminal gravity 1.007 1.002 (4.2 Brix)
Attenuation 81% 96%
ABV 4.3% 5.2%
GU/BU ratio 1.25 1.19
Yeast: Safale US-05
Brew fridge: 18°C ±1°C, with two days at 2°C ±1°C before bottling

I used the same malt bill as last time, mainly as I had to buy a kilo of Cara Gold, which was enough for six batches of this beer. But also as I blew hot and cold with the last batch, sometimes it was great, other times, a bit meh. I thought it deserved another couple of chances before deciding if we should keep it, or go back to what I was doing before.

I’d used oat husks in the mash on the previous two brews and it had a massive difference to the run off during sparging. This time it didn’t, with the run off petering out with a third of the sparge liquor still left in the mash tun, on both sparges. It wasn’t that the grain bed had set solid either, as when I emptied it, it was nice and fluffy underneath that nasty grey top.

I’m not really sure why it happened, but it meant that the wort in the boiler was rather on the murky side, as I had to jab a hole through the grain bed to get the run off going again. Which I have to say, it did really easily, so maybe that grey top on the grain bed was the issue.

Alternatively, it could be the fact that the tap on the mash tun is crap and is either on or off. It’s practically impossible to get it to trickle, as when you turn it, it jumps halfway round; I must buy a replacement before I brew again.

Unfortunately it wasn’t just the mash I had issues with, as my boiler decided to play up as well. It would boil fine for a bit, then start cutting out and just simmer, even on full power. This meant that the first twenty minutes of the boil, it wasn’t exactly boiling; I think there maybe something loose in the bit that controls the temperature, so I’ll have to look into that before brewing again. It did work correctly for the majority of the ninety minutes though (after a bit of waggling), so hopefully everything will be alright, there certainly seemed to be some hot break, so fingers crossed.

I did remember to take a pre boil gravity reading though, unlike the last two brews where I’ve forgotten. It was 9° Brix, or ~1.036, with about 25.3 litres of wort in the boiler. There was quite a bit of liquid left in the mash tun, but given how prone my boiler is to boiling over, it’s best not to go far past 25 litres. This means that the mash efficiency was somewhere in the region of 76% to 77%. I’ll need to do a proper calculation to work it out correctly though, as I don’t trust the website I entered the details into.

The last time I brewed this malt base, I forgot to do an 80°C with the hops. It does add an extra half hour or so to the brew length, but it’s worth it I think. Hopefully it will add an extra layer of flavour to the finished beer along with the dry hopping that is still to come.

After chilling, I transferred it to the fermenter, I was aiming for 19 litres and got 18.5 litres, so not too bad. The gravity was a touch high at 1.046 or there abouts, so I liquored back with a litre and a half to bring it down to about 1.042, which is still slightly higher than the 1.040 I was aiming for. This all meant that the final volume in the fermenter was 20 litres, so hopefully that will mean around 18.5 available for bottling, after losses to yeast trub and dry hops.

Now it’s just a case of being patient while letting the US-05 do its thing. I’ll admit to sneaking out the the brew shed to check on it, it’s smelling wonderful. I do like the smell of fermenting beer.

Update: 08/08/14
I’ve been a bit lax with tracking the gravity on this batch, in that I haven’t checked it since putting it into the brew fridge. I should probably have check it on Wednesday evening, but the Great British Bake Off was on the telly box and I was tired. So I checked last night and the gravity had dropped to 5.2 Brix, or 1.007 or thereabouts, so I probably should’ve dry hopped it on Wednesday night, but better late than never…

So it’s three days at 18°C ±1°C, with two days at 2°C ±1°C before bottling, which means bottling should happen on Tuesday night. Except I normally go for a 100+Km cycle on Tuesday nights after work and I’m off down the pub next Wednesday, so I think I’ll have to revisit what I do when next week as I don’t want to leave this too long in the brew fridge.

Update: 13/08/14
I turned the brew fridge down to 2°C ±1°C on Monday morning, due to forgetting on Sunday evening. When I checked it after work on Monday, it was only down to 7°C, so I was a bit worried, as this was the second brew on the trot, where the fridge hadn’t got down to the required temperature. I then noticed that the fridge dial was only set to 2, so switched it all the way round to 5. When I checked again on Tuesday morning, it was finally down to 2°C. Not sure why I had it set so low, obviously it needs to be all the way round to enable it to go cold…

The bottling went without any issues, thirty 500ml and twelve 330ml bottles is quite a good return. It was interesting to see that the gravity drop quite a bit further from what it was when the dry hops went in. An alleged attenuation of 96%! US-05 is a funny old beast…

AG #10 – Coronal Mass Ejection: Kohatu, Motueka, Nelson Sauvin

After ten months off from brewing, it’s two brews in as many weeks. Mainly as this brew needs to be ready for a planned soirée next month.

I did consider brewing a dark beer as the second beer for my wife’s soirée, but figured that as I still have a mountain of hops to get though, I’d have another go at a hop burst. The last one wasn’t quite what I wanted, so a slight reduction in the amount of CARAMUNICH I and an all Kiwi hop bill and I was ready to brew.

This time I decided to actually do proper water treatment, so along with the CRS, gypsum and sodium chloride that I already had in stock, I bought some Epsom salts, as required by the calculations. I treated the water in the morning before work as per normal with Campden tablets, to rid the water of chlorine and chloramine and then added the rest of the water treatment in the evening just before turning the boilers on to heat the mash liquor.

Here’s the recipe details:

Fermentable Colour Grams Ratio
Wayermann Premiere Pilsner 3 EBC 5,001 grams 88%
Wayermann CARAMUNICH I 90 EBC 397 grams 7%
Wayermann Dark Wheat 17.5 EBC 284 grams 5%
  19 EBC 5,682 grams  
Kettle Hop Variety Type Alpha Time grams IBUs IBU Ratio
2012 Kohatu Whole 6.8% 10 32 9 15%
2013 Motueka Whole 5.8% 10 38 9 15%
2013 Nelson Sauvin Whole 12.4% 10 23 12 20%
2012 Kohatu Whole 6.8% 5 67 10 15%
2013 Motueka Whole 5.8% 5 60 8 13%
2013 Nelson Sauvin Whole 12.4% 5 43 12 20%
Other Hop Variety Type Alpha Time grams
2013 Nelson Sauvin Whole 12.4% days 5 to 10 34g
2013 Motueka Pellet 7.2% days 5 to 10 50g
  Expected Actual
Volume (in FV) 19 litres 18.5 litres
Mash 90 mins at 65°C 90 mins at 65°C
Original gravity 1.060 1.054 (13.2° Brix)
Terminal gravity 1.011 1.011 (6.9° Brix)
Attenuation 81% 80%
ABV 6.4% 5.6%
GU/BU ratio 1 1.11
Yeast: Safale US-05
Brew fridge: 18°C ±1°C, with 2°C ±1°C for final two days before bottling

While everyone I gave a bottle of the last brew to, thought it was the best I’d brewed, I wasn’t happy with it. I thought the prickle from the malt was just a touch too high and don’t get me started on my perceived lack of hop flavour. So I used a couple of percent less CARAMUNICH I, with more pilsner malt to make up the difference, we’ll see if that delivers just enough prickle, but not too much.

Just like AG #09, I used oak husks in the mash, so again, it flowed freely into the boiler. There really is no going back now, I’ll be using those in the mash every time. As it was running off so freely, I recirculated six litres of wort (three jugs), rather than my usual four litres (two jugs). This all meant that the wort clarity in the boiler was amazing, still not as clear as some I see in others blogs, but by far and away the clearest I’ve ever had.

I made the mistake of not taking a pre-boil gravity reading, again. I’m not sure why I forgot, I was remembering. This means I can’t work out mash efficiency, which is rather annoying, as it would have been interesting to see given the use of water treatment. It would also of highlighted the fact that I’d not got enough extraction from the mash, which resulted in a post boil gravity of 1.054, rather than 1.060. I have a couple of theories why this might have been the case, I’ll need to do some calculations to confirm or exclude them.

While we’re on about the boil, this one was very lively and if I’d not been standing over it for the first fifteen minutes or so, it could have been a bit of a disaster. Out of nowhere really, I had two mini-boil overs, both of which I managed to catch just as they hit the lip of the boiler, so I lost minimal wort. I didn’t feel like I was boiling this one as hard as the last brew, so I’m not sure why this one tried to escape.

The two hop additions made up for having to stand over the boiler watching though, they really made the shed smell fantastic. The only downside to adding 250g of hops to the boiler though, is the amount of wort they soak up, I miscalculated slightly, so lost half a litre more than I was expecting. At flame out, I let the hops steep for twenty minutes before putting the immersion chiller in.

For some reason the water seemed to be running extra slowly through the chiller, which mean that I didn’t get it run off into the fermenter and into the brew fridge until about ten past two. This meant that I was an hour faster than the last brew, but the boil was only sixty minutes, rather than ninety. I’m sure I can still slice a bit of time off if I work on it. I’m looking forward to tasting this one, as a sample of the wort was very nice.

Update: 28/04/14
The date of my wifes soirée has been set, invitation have been sent out, so this beer is on a schedule, which means it needs to be bottled on Friday night. This give it two weeks and a day to condition, which is borderline at best and lunacy at worst. To meet the bottling schedule, I had to dry hop it last night, even though the gravity reading I took in the morning, only had the wort down to 1.020 from 1.054. At least that’s what I calculated it to be, but upon looking at the figures again today, it would appear that 13.2 Brix starting gravity and 6.8 Brix current gravity, gives an specific gravity of ~1.010.

I think what was throwing me, was the fact that there was still quite a decent krausen on top of the wort and not a patchy one either. The glistening creamy tan coloured yeast was covering practically the whole surface area, I did think about cropping some of it to save for the next brew, but didn’t have anything handy to collect it in.

I whizzed up the remainder of the packet of Nelson Sauvin, so about 34g or thereabouts. To this, I added 50g of Motueka pellets that my parents brought me back from their trip to New Zealand at the end of last year. It’s the first time I’ve dry hopped with pellets, so it’ll be interesting to see how they fare, especially as they’ve been carted half way round the world in a suitcase.

The wort has three days to hit terminal gravity, I’ll be checking it over the next couple of nights. The brew fridge will then be set to 2°C ±1°C on Wednesday evening and I’ll bottle it on Friday evening after work. I’m looking forward to tasting a sample on Friday night to see if I can get an early indication of what it’s going to be like, I have high hopes.

Update: 03/05/14
Everyone seems to moan about bottling their homebrew, but I don’t mind it, it’s just part of the process. It’s also a couple of hours of me time in the shed, where I can listen to some podcasts or music and chill out. I might think differently if I had a bunch of corney kegs and a Kegerator setup though.

Things didn’t start so well, as I managed to smash some bottles when filling the dishwasher, I can be a bit clumsy like that occasionally. The main issue wasn’t with me though, it was with the brew fridge. Even though it had been set to 2°C ±1°C two days previously, it hadn’t dropped below 6°C. I’ve no idea why it did this and it’s not done it before, I’ll just have to see if it does it on the next batch and then react accordingly, i.e. buy a newer fridge if this one is on the way out.

It didn’t take that long, a couple of hours maybe, as I really wasn’t rushing. Then a quick clean down of all the buckets and it was ready for bed. Looking forward to this one…

Update: 04/05/14
So while I don’t mind bottling homebrew, I do find sticking labels on to be absolutley tedious. I did two batches of homebrew and two batches of #projectcider and it took all afternoon. My thighs are wrecked from all the squatting up and down to make sure the labels were going on nice and level.

While it’s tedious, it does mean they look the part…

AG #09 – Binary Star: Galaxy, Citra

I went on holiday last August, fully intending to brew the moment I got back, I’d even produced a brew schedule for the rest of the year. As it turned out, the holiday cost a bit more than we budgeted for, which meant that I had to make some hard decisions during the rest of the year; should I brew, or go to the grand final of the Sainsbury’s Great British Beer Hunt, for instance. Then there was the small matter of #projectcider. I still have some unfermented must and while I’ve given back the majority of the fermenters I borrowed, both of my fermenters still have cider (in various states) in them.

My wife has made her thoughts on #projectcider well known, especially the lack of brewing beer while its all been fermenting. So a couple of weeks back, I popped into Cutlacks on Mill Road and bought another fermenter, then placed an order with The Malt Miller for some grain. I didn’t buy any hops, as I still have a freezer full, as I bought a load before we went on holiday last year. I was all set to brew again, so decided to brew the second thing that I was going to brew after coming back from holiday last year. Here’s the recipe:

Fermentable Colour Grams Ratio
Crisp Lager Malt 3.5 EBC 3269 grams 87%
Thomas Fawcett Pale Wheat Malt 4.9 EBC 326 grams 8.7%
Crisp Cara Gold 15 EBC 161 grams 4.3%
  5 EBC 3756 grams  
Kettle Hop Variety Type Alpha Time grams IBUs IBU Ratio
2012 Galaxy Whole 13.9% 90 7 15 30%
2012 Galaxy Whole 13.9% 15 8 8 15%
2012 Citra Whole 14.8% 15 12 12 25%
2012 Galaxy Whole 13.9% 10 11 8 15%
2012 Galaxy Whole 13.9% 5 20 8 15%
Other Hop Variety Type Alpha Time grams
2012 Galaxy Whole 13.9% days 12 to 17 54g
2012 Citra Whole 14.8% days 12 to 17 38g
  Expected Actual
Volume (in FV) 19 litres 21 litres
Mash 90 mins at 68°C 105 mins at 68°C
Original gravity 1.040 1.040 (10 Brix)
Terminal gravity 1.007 1.006
Attenuation 81% 85%
ABV 4.3% 4.46%
GU/BU ratio 1.25 1.25*
Yeast: NBS West Coast Style Ale
Brew fridge: 19°C ±1°C, with two days at 2°C in kitchen fridge before bottling

Unlike all the other Binary Star beers I’ve brewed, this one has three malts in it, rather than just two. I decided to try this after reading Phil Lowry’s homebrew article in BEER magazine, where he chatted to Mark Tranter. Darkstar Hophead is one of my favourite beers, so if it’s creator offers a recipe with a similar malt bill, I’d be a fool not to try it.

I know I said after my last brew that I’d take a look at proper water treatment going forward. But as it had been ten months, I just wanted to brew without the complication of an extra new step. I’ll take a look at proper water treatment on the next brew…

The brew pretty much went without a hitch, it did take slightly longer than it could have and I didn’t get to bed until 03:30 or something daft. I also went with a much higher mash temperature, 68°C, than I normally go for, 65°C, I’m not sure why I did that if I’m being honest.

The main difference with this brew, was the use of oak husks in the mash, to help avoid the dreaded stuck mash. They worked an absolute treat and I had absolutely no issues with run off, from either of the two batches. I’ll definitely be adding some of these to every brew going forward.

The only other thing that I changed, was the yeast I used. Rather than the ever reliable US-05, I decided to use one of The Malt Miller‘s own packaged yeasts, just to see what the difference would be. It seemed slower to start, with only a partial krausen after 32 hours and slower to chop down to terminal gravity. Normally I’d have dry hopped for five days and be ready to bottle, in the time it took to reach terminal gravity.

Update: 23/04/14
As the yeast had finally chomped its way through the available sugars and hit terminal gravity, it was time to dry hop. Due to the tardiness of the yeast and the fact that I was brewing another beer this evening and needed the fermenter, I was forced to use a spare keg, that was waiting for another batch of #projectcider. As I’ll only be dry hopping for five days and the cider hasn’t quite finished, there shouldn’t be any contention for the keg.

Normally I whizz up the whole hops in the food processor and add them to the fermenter. Since I was using the keg, I decided to try blending the whole hops in the Vitamix, to see if that would help release anymore hop oils into the beer. So I added the remaining Galaxy hops and enough Citra to leave half a packet for another brew to the blender and three hundred millilitres of boiled water.

To be honest, I doubt I do this again, especially if I then have to put the resulting mush into a keg. The first issue was that the hops wouldn’t really blend, they just absorbed the water and stuck in the jug, rather than dropping into the blades. Secondly, getting the hops out of the blender jug and into the keg was nigh on impossible, without two pairs of hands.

Somehow I managed it, but I’m sure that there’s a bit of paper in there, and some of the paint from the plastic place mat thing I ended up using too. I’d been planning on trying this at some point, now that I’ve done it, I’ll probably just start buying pellets, as they’ll be rather easier to use…

Update: 28/04/14
After having dry hops in for the last five days, it was time to bottle. Normally I dry hop in the brew fridge and crash cool to 2°C for the last two days. As I have another beer in there fermenting, I ended up putting the keg into one of the kitchen fridges (yes, we have two) on Friday evening and setting it to 2°C.

After rummaging around in the loft for ages on Saturday to get a load of bottles down for #projectcider, I ended up tidying up that bit of the loft, so hopefully it will be easier to get bottles down in future. I selected two different types of bottle, one for this brew and another for the other batch that’s still fermenting. My OCD means I really have to have an entire brew put into the same style of bottle (the 330ml are for giving away to friends etc).

It turns out that I prepared the exact number of bottles required, which was a bit of a worry, as I normally have one or two spare just incase I’ve miscalculated. there was a bit left over, which looked rather opaque when held up to the light. I initially put this down to chill haze, but when I look at it again this morning, I’ll claim it’s hop haze from the dry hopping. South Cambridgeshire murky, if you like…

Taste wise, the bit left over was interesting. I can confirm that Galaxy and Citra go quite nicely together and the bitterness was just what I was after. As for the malt flavours, I’m not sure, it’s hard to tell this early and without any carbonation. I think I’ll only be sure when it’s all drunk.

* I’m not sure that the GU/BU ration is correct due to the two litres of liquor back to get to the correct gravity…