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.

AG #08 – Pulsar: Homegrown Cascade

Last year was the first year that I’ve managed to get any real quantity of hops from my Cascade bines. I dried about half of them in our dehydrator and just froze the other half without drying; they’ve all been sitting in my mother-in-law’s chest freezer since last September. Since I had no idea what they were going to be like, or what their Alpha Acid percentage would be etc, the only sensible thing to do, was to brew a single hop beer to find out. Here’s the recipe, it’s the same malt bill as the last brew:

Fermentable Colour Grams Ratio
Wayermann Pilsner Malt 4 EBC 2936 grams 95%
Wayermann CARAPILS 4 EBC 154 grams 5%
Kettle Hop Variety Type Alpha Time grams IBU Ratio
2012 Homegrown Cascade Whole ??% 60 66 100%
Other Hop Variety Type Alpha Time grams
2012 Homegrown Cascade Whole ??% flame out steep 150g
2012 Homegrown Cascade Whole ??% days 5 to 10 150g
  Expected Actual
Volume (in FV) 19 litres 20 litres
Mash 90 mins at 66°C 92 mins at 66°C
Original gravity 1.035 1.035 (8.6 Brix)
Terminal gravity 1.006 1.002 (3.6 Brix)
Attenuation 81% 94%
ABV 3.75% 4.18%
GU/BU ratio ? ?
Yeast: Safale US-05
Brew fridge: fermentation at 19°C ±1°C
dry hopping at 12°C ±1°C with 2°C ±1°C for two days before bottling

As the weather was still really nice, I decided to brew outside again, although I did mash in, in the shed, before moving everything onto the collapsible table. Unlike last time though, this brew was an evening/night affair, luckily for me the light in the shed was more than enough to illuminate things through the open door though.

To be honest, it was a pretty uneventful brew, apart from getting another stuck mash. The run off from the first batch sparge was crystal clear after vorlauf, I was most impressed. However, the run off just dribbled to a stop after half a litre or so and I had to apply judicious use of the mash paddle to get it going again.

I have an idea of what’s causing all these stuck mashes, which, if I’m being honest, are becoming a real pain in the arse. I think it’s all down to the tap on the mash tun, it’s a bit sticky and it seems to jump from off, to mostly full on, without stopping in between. So it’s practically impossible to have it on just a little bit, as it happens whichever way you turn it. I think I’m going to have to invest in one of those trick ball taps that I’ve seen others use, as they look quite controllable.

Given that I don’t know the Alpha Acid content of these hops, you may be wondering how I choose the amounts for each stage of the brew. It was quite easy, as I had two bags of dried cones and two bags of green cones. Each bag of dried cones weighed about 66g and each of the bags of green cones about 300g. So I decided to chuck in the whole bag of dried at the start of the boil and split the green cones for the flame out steep and dry hop. Which means I have enough to do a re-brew should it turn out to be nice and tasty.

The beer is currently sitting in the fermentation fridge at 12°C, while the dry hops work their magic. I’ll be dropping it to 2°C tomorrow, in preparation for bottling it on Monday night. I should really be bottling it on Sunday, but we’re taking the kids to the Olympic stadium to watch the super humans at the Anniversary Games, so I’ll be far too knackered by the time we get back.

Update: 30th July 2013
I managed to get it all bottled last night, I used 330ml and 660ml bottles. It went surprisingly smoothly and without a hitch, with even the capper behaving itself for a change. If I give it the normal two weeks in the bottle to condition, then I’ll be on holiday in France when it’s ready. So it looks like the majority of this batch will be sitting in a fridge till the end of the month before it gets drunk. I may take a few on holiday with us though, at least then I’ll have some hops occasionally…

AG #07 – Pulsar: Amarillo

I brewed again last weekend, it wasn’t such a snap decision as the last two (AG #05 and AG #06), as I knew I had to brew to ensure that I stick to the schedule prior to going on holiday next month. I started brewing slightly earlier than last time, but it still interfered with dinner and bedtime for the kids. I think that if I’m going to brew at the weekend, I need to start first thing in the morning, I might try it next time out to see how we get on.

I’ve wanted to brew some single hop beers for ages and since I bought 500g of Amarillo from @pdtnc, I decided to start with some of those. Also, as it was a really nice day, I decided to brew outside, rather than in the shed, mainly to avoid all the condensation dripping from the shed ceiling. Here’s the recipe:

Fermentable Colour Grams Ratio
Wayermann Pilsner Malt 4 EBC 2936 grams 95%
Wayermann CARAPILS EBC 154 grams 5%
Kettle Hop Variety Type Alpha Time grams IBU Ratio
2012 Amarillo Whole 10.9% 60 23 100%
Other Hop Variety Type Alpha Time grams
2012 Amarillo Whole 10.9% flame out steep 50g
2012 Amarillo Whole 10.9% days 5 to 9 77g
  Expected Actual
Volume (in FV) 19 litres 20.1 litres
Mash 90 mins at 67°C 105 mins at 66°C
Original gravity 1.035 1.033 (8.25 Brix)
Terminal gravity 1.006 1.004 (3.8 Brix)
Attenuation 81% 87%
ABV 3.75% 3.73%
GU/BU ratio 1 1.06
Yeast: Safale US-05
Brew fridge: 19°C ±1°C, with 2°C ±1°C for final two days before bottling

I was aiming for something really pale and quite neutral in malt flavour, so that the hops could really shine, hence going for the Pilsner and CARAPILS combination. As I was aiming for a relatively low gravity, I tried to mash in at 67°C, but I missed by a degree, even with adding some water from a freshly boiled kettle. I’m not too bothered about missing it, as I’m sure 66°C will produce an acceptable result. I think the reason that I couldn’t quite hit 67°C, was due to brewing outside, with the wind just sucking all the heat out of the mash tun. To be honest, I’m not totally sold with brewing outside, I like being in my shed, so it’s probably time to seriously think about a DIY extractor system.

The boil was pretty uneventful, as I spent most of it in the kitchen making Macaroni Cheese for everyone’s dinner. I say it was uneventful, but when I went out to add the half Protofloc tablet with fifteen minutes to go, it was more like a simmer, than a boil. So I whacked the heat up a bit, but with the amount of break material floating around, I don’t think it’ll be an issue. Having said that, it did mean that I didn’t get the anticipated boil off, so ended up with slightly too much wort, at slightly too low a gravity.

Fermentation kicked in pretty quickly and was underway before I turned in for the night. I checked up on it on both Tuesday and Wednesday mornings before going to work and it was fairly making the airlock bubble on both occasions. Last night I took another gravity reading and then dry hopped it with what seemed like a mountain of hops. All this means that I should be on course for bottling it next Tuesday, which is a bit of a bugger as that’s normally my gym night. Given that, I might wait till Wednesday, depends on the weather…

Update: 11th July 2013
Last night I got round to bottling this batch up. I was hoping to use some 660ml bottles, but I didn’t manage to de-label enough of them in time, so ended up just using some 500ml ones. To mitigate the issues I’ve had with the last couple of brews, I ziptied a bit of muslin around the end of the syphon tubing, to stop bits of hop from blocking it. This worked a treat, although the transfer to the bottling bucket still wasn’t as fast as I’d have liked. I think I need to find a better clip and get hold of some wider bore tubing.

AG #04: Binary Star – Simcoe Amarillo

After the stuck mash on my last brew, I was itching to have another go and try and get it right. I’d already decided to go with pretty much the same recipe as last time, mainly as I knew that these first couple of brews back would have issues and I wanted to try and iron them out. The main difference between this brew and the previous one were the hops being used, this time around it was a bag of Simcoe that was getting used up, along with the remainder of the packet of Amarillo. Here’s the recipe:

Fermentable Colour Grams Ratio
Pale Malt 5 EBC 3436 grams 89.1%
CaraPils 4 EBC 420 grams 10.9%
Kettle Hop Variety Type Alpha Time grams IBU Ratio
2010 Simcoe Whole 12.2% 90 8 30%
2010 Simcoe Whole 12.2% 15 15 25%
2010 Amarillo Whole 10.7% 15 10 15%
2010 Simcoe Whole 12.2% 10 12 15%
2010 Simcoe Whole 12.2% 5 23 15%
Other Hop Variety Type Alpha Time grams
2010 Simcoe Whole 12.2% 80°C steep 20g
2010 Amarillo Whole 15% 80°C steep 20g
2010 Simcoe Whole 15% days 4 to 10 21g
2010 Amarillo Whole 10.7% days 4 to 10 20g
  Expected Actual
Volume 19 litres 18.8 litres
Mash 90 mins at 66°C 90 mins at 65°C
Original gravity 1.040 1.048 (12 Brix)
Terminal gravity 1.007 1.007 (5.8 Brix)
Attenuation 81% 85.4%
ABV 4.9% 5.4%
GU/BU ratio 1.25 1.04
Yeast: Safale US-05
Brew fridge: 19°C ±1°C

I didn’t quite have enough Marris Otter Pale Malt left to reach my target gravity of 1.040 with a 92%/8% split with the CaraPils, so I added more of the latter to make up the difference. Hopefully this won’t result in the beer having too much residual sweetness and infact might help as the GU/BU ratio is quite high.

For some reason I decided to use my main boiler to heat the initial mash liquor, rather than my spare one. I think the reason was that I needed more liquor than would fit in either, so decided to use the main boiler first so it would free to accept both batches of wort, without having to wait for the second batch of water to heat to temperature.

The taps on both the boilers are different, the one on the main boiler is quite small and doesn’t have anywhere near the float rate of the spare boiler, which is why I’ve always used it in the past for the initial mash liquor. Because of this, it took longer than expected to get the initial batch of liquor into the mash tun and I missed my mash temperature by a degree. Which meant that I mashed at 65°C for ninety minutes, rather than at 66°C for ninety minutes. I was pleased to see though, that after ninety minutes, the temperature of the mash was exactly the same.

Missing my mash temperature was also compounded by over shooting the strike temperature and then having to faff around to try and cool it down by a couple of degrees. I’m not sure what happened exactly, but it reached strike temperature about five minutes earlier than I was expecting and as I was in the house at the time, it meant to ended up too high. I should really find out what the power of the boiler elements are, so I can be a bit more accurate with working out how long it will take to heat up.

Both batch sparges went without issue, although I do think I should have recirculated three two litre jugs of wort like last time, rather than just the two that I did. The wort was much clearer last time round before I let it drop into the boiler, this time is was really muddy looking. On the upside though, at least this meant that I didn’t end up with a stuck mash, which all meant that I hit my target pre-boil volume.

Due to not having a stuck mash, this part of the brew went just bit faster than last time. I didn’t time it exactly, but it was somewhere in between three to three and a half hours or so from starting to fill the boilers with water, to having all the wort in the boiler. I still think there is room for improvement, so I hope to make this part go even quicker next time. One thing I definitely need to do next time is go to bed immediately after I finish and not stay up till half past midnight.

After drinking a few bottles of the last brew on the Friday evening and another bottle once I’d started the mash, I decided to make a tweak to the hopping schedule. Rather than 40% of the IBUs coming at the start, I decided to go with slightly less, in favour of a much bigger addition at 15 minutes to go. This also meant that there was no twenty minute addition, so it’ll be interesting to see what kind of difference that makes, if any.

The boil passed without incident, although I’m not sure that I boiled quite as hard as last time. Though there did appear to be quite a lot of break material in the boiler once it was drained, so hopefully I boiled it hard enough. It took quite a long time to get to the stage where I could empty the boiler though, as it seemed to take an absolute age to cool down to pitching temperature. On the plus side though, I reseated the jubilee clips on the chiller, which seems to have stopped them leaking.

All that was left to do was pitch the yeast and clean up, which I did immediately this time round. While chilling the wort seemed to take an age, everything else seemed to be go a bit quicker, so I was all done and dusted and back with the family in time to whip up an Ottolenghi recipe for lunch.

I was much happier with the way this brew went, even though I still overshot the anticipated gravity, which I think was just down to an increased efficiency, rather than anything else. Having said that, I do think that I could have had a clearer mash run off, so it’ll be interesting to see what the beer is like once it’s been bottled.

Update: 17/04/12
I popped out to the shed this morning to check up on the beer and take a gravity reading. As you can see from the photos, I had a smashing time… I don’t know what it is about me and hydrometers, they just don’t last very long around me. At least I have a refractometer now though, so I can still monitor the beer and work out the terminal gravity and thus rough ABV. So it turns out that this equation is my new best friend:

SG = 1.001843 – 0.002318474*OB – 0.000007775*OB*OB – 0.000000034*OB*OB*OB + 0.00574*FB + 0.00003344*FB*FB + 0.000000086*FB*FB*FB

Update: 18/04/12
The gravity reading from yesterday was low enough for me to think about dry hopping the beer, so I did. I used up the remainder of both the packs of Simcoe and Amarillo, and boy did they smell good! I used the same dry hopping technique as last time, although I decided against adding some water, mainly as I couldn’t be arsed to boil some for ten minutes to sterilise it. I should really get my finger out next time and make sure I do try it wet, as I’m not sure I want all those lovely hop resins stuck to the side of the processor bowl.

Update: 23/04/12
I totally forgot to turn down the temperature on the brew fridge in Sunday night, which would have given the beer three days at 2°C. I suddenly remembered this morning, so ran out the the shed and adjusted the thermostat accordingly. I totally forgot to adjust the low level alarm again though, so when I got home it was blinking away. Luckily the temp in the fridge appears to have gone all the way down to 2°C inspite of this, so a minor tweak to the thermostat and the alarm disappeared.

I think I need to write a checklist of all the different steps that need doing and when they need doing. Sounds like a good idea for a blog or two…

Update: 25/04/12
Yesterday morning before work turned out to be slightly hectic, as I suddenly realised that I hadn’t prepared any bottles by stripping them of their labels. This resulted in a frantic scrubbing session at nine o’clock in the morning, to make sure I had more than enough clean de-labeled bottles.

I have to say though, that preparing German bottles is a breeze, the labels simply slide off after five minutes in hot water. In contrast, I have no idea what glue British brewers are using, as it seems capable of withstanding a thermonuclear explosion! Judicious use of a knife and metal pan scourer eventually got it off, but what a pain. I think I’ll have to try boiling the bottles next time, that should soften the glue enough, I would have though…

The benefit of getting the bottles prepared before work though, was that I could get them all into the dishwasher and have it set to come on while I was on the way home, so the bottled would be ready for me once I’d had my dinner, so theoretically I could get on quicker. This worked out quite well, especially as I ended up going off to collect another fridge for use in the shed, so if I’d waited until I’d got home to put the dishwasher on, who know how late it would have been when I finished.

I bought a new syphon tube clip for use on this brew, as my existing one is a bit crap and last time, didn’t allow the tube to get all the way to the bottom of the bucket. The only issue though, was the clip is for ¼” syphon tubing and mine is slightly thicker, which meant that it got a bit pinched. This resulted in the longest transfer I think I’ve ever done, it took an absolute ages to syphon the beer onto the primings in the other bucket. I might have to have a fiddle with different tubing, although the syphoning into the bottles didn’t appear to be affected.

I managed to get 34 bottles, which isn’t too bad, it means I lost just over a litre and a half to the trub and dry hops. While I could take this into account and have more than 19 litres in the fermentor, I’m getting near the limit of what the existing mash tun can cope with when batch sparging. I’m considering looking into getting some of those 30 litre blue barrels and trying to bodge my own system, I can’t see it happening anytime in the near future, but it’s worth dreaming about for a bit I think.

The bottles are all now in the brew fridge, which has been set to a balmy 19°C, where they’ll sit for a week or two until they’re ready to sample. All that’s left to do, is cut the remaining labels out and stick them on. I’ve got high hopes for this one and am really looking forward to trying it.

Update: 08/05/12
My wife was out last night, so I took the opportunity to cut out the remaining labels and stick them on. I’m quite pleased with these labels, I think they’re an improvement over the last batch. They do need a bit of tweaking though, as the sidebar has come out a bit darker than I wanted and I think the main text could be slightly larger, but other than that, I’m really quite pleased.

Update: 21/05/12
And in a fountain of foam, the last bottle was gone…
So it looks like this batch had some serious carbonation issues, as the vast majority of the bottles had next to none, while a few were quite lively. Then there was this one, where the foam literally jumped ten centimeters out the top of the bottle the moment it was opened.

I can only conclude that the pinch in the syphon tubing that caused the slower than normal transfer into the bottling bucket, meant that the primings didn’t get evenly distributed. They must have been in a clump that mostly went this this last bottle, which would explain why all the others were near enough flat. So I’ll be switching the syphon tubing around for the next brew to try and avoid this…

AG #03: Binary Star – Galaxy Amarillo

I’ve not brewed for about twenty months, mainly as we were having an extension built, but then mainly due to being lax. After finally getting the brew fridge up and running the other week, which I’d been using as an excuse not to brew, it was time to finally pull the proverbial finger out and get a brew on. Fitting a brew in round a young family can be challenging though, as I’m not allowed to spend a whole weekend day on one of my hobbies and ignore the family.

It wasn’t so much of an issue when I was doing the extract/partial mash brews, as they could be all done and dusted in an evening. The initial plan was to take a Friday afternoon off work and brew into the night, although I just don’t have enough spare holiday this year to be doing that. This didn’t leave many options, but one that was suggested on Jims Homebrew Kit Forum, was to split the brew over two days; getting the mash done in the evening, then doing the boil early the following morning.

So that’s what I did at the weekend; mashed in on the Saturday evening while my wife was out and then got up at five o’clock on the Sunday morning and completed the boil and clean up. In fact, I actually started on Friday, as I needed to give all the containers a really good clean, they were quite manky from having sat unused in the shed. So I picked up some VWP at lunchtime and spent the evening up to my elbows with a cloth and shower head getting all the grime off.

Here’s the recipe I was working to, I was aiming for something pale and very hoppy, with an OG of 1040 and 50 IBUs. I wanted to keep the grist simple, as I had done in my first two all grain attempts, there’s plenty of time to experiment with other grains once I’ve got back into the swing of things. I have a load of hops that need used up, they were all bought a couple of months before I stopped brewing, as I thought I could fit in a few more brews before the extension was started, but I didn’t manage to fit any in. Wanting to use up as many as I can in each brew is the main reason why there is 150g of hops in the brew. The other 50g of Amarillo will go in the next brew, along with 100g of Simcoe, my fifth and sixth all grain brews will feature even more as I try to use them all up.

Fermentable Colour Grams Ratio
Pale Malt 5 EBC 3586 grams 92%
CaraPils 4 EBC 312 grams 8%
Kettle Hop Variety Type Alpha Time grams IBU Ratio
2011 Galaxy Whole 15% 90 9 40%
2011 Galaxy Whole 15% 20 6 15%
2010 Amarillo Whole 10.7% 15 11 15%
2011 Galaxy Whole 15% 10 10 15%
2011 Galaxy Whole 15% 5 18 15%
Other Hop Variety Type Alpha Time grams
2011 Galaxy Whole 15% 80°C steep 30
2010 Amarillo Whole 15% 80°C steep 20
2011 Galaxy Whole 15% days 6 to 11 27
2010 Amarillo Whole 10.7% days 6 to 11 21
  Expected Actual
Volume 19 litres 12.3 litres
Mash 90 mins at 66°C 90 mins at 66.9°C
Original gravity 1.040 1.060
Terminal gravity 1.007 1.011
ABV 4.9% 7.1%
Yeast: Safale US-05
Brew fridge: 19°C ±1°C

I batch sparge, as while I have the kit to do fly sparging, the mash tun isn’t quite square enough and I’d rather not have to worry about getting water flow rates equalised when my mash tun tap is so crap. I don’t mind having to use a few hundred grams more grain to offset the loss in efficiency, as it makes life alot easier. Having said that, I didn’t actually do it properly on my first two brews, as I mashed in with both the mash liquor and the first batch top up liquor. Having read this article on batch sparging on Jim’s Beer Kit, I did it properly this time and used the right amount of water for the ninety minute mash.

I was aiming to mash at 66°C, but let the strike temperature of the water get a few points of a degree too high. I also didn’t recheck the temperature of the grain once it had gone into the preheated mash tun, so this all resulted in the temperature creeping up to 66.9°C. I wasn’t too bothered to be honest, as having a bit of extra body would theoretically help to carry the bitterness. When the ninety minutes was up, the mash had only lost about a degree and a half, which wasn’t too bad, although I’d still like to insulate the mash tun lid with some two part epoxy foam.

The first batch sparge went without incident. In a change from my previous brews, I made sure that I recirculated a decent amount of wort to enable the grain bed to settle and act like a filter. In the past I’ve just used a couple of 500ml jugs worth and felt that the wort in the boiler was a bit on the murky side. So I dug out an old 2.2 Litre jug from my old darkroom kit, that I had last used about nine years ago. After recirculating three jugs worth, the wort was much, much clearer and I let it run into the boiler. I was after 12.3 litre from each batch sparge and as you can see from the photos, I pretty much hit that on the button with the first batch.

For some reason, after filling up the mash tun with the second lot of sparge water, I left it to sit for about twenty minutes before starting the run off. This is what I did on the first two brews, but for the life of me I can’t remember why; I must have read it online somewhere. In a similar fashion to the first batch, I decided to recirculate three jugs of wort, before draining into the boiler. The first jug was cloudy, but the second was really, really clear and in hindsight, I should have just let it run into the boiler at that point.

To cut a long story short, I managed to get a stuck mash, twice. I managed to free up the grain bed with a bit of stirring, I just hope that hasn’t released too many off flavours from the grain, but I had no way of underletting to try and refloat the mash, so it was the only option. After recirculating another couple of jugs, I started to let it run into the boiler, but the mash stuck again with only about half of the required volume transferred. This time there was no recovering it and no matter what I did, I couldn’t get more than a few drops out of the tap. It was at this point I discovered that I’d also dislodged the copper grain filter, so I knew the game was up.

I was after 24 litres in the boiler, I got about 19, so it wasn’t a complete disaster, but it did mean the wort was much stronger than anticipated. After tweaking the recipe in BeerEngine to account for the new OG and volume, the hop weights had only changed by a gram or two for the same IBUs, so I decided to stick with the original weights. I cleaned up as best I could and stumbled off to bed at around one o’clock.

When the alarm went off four hours later at five o’clock, I won’t lie, it was very tempting to just switch it off and turn over, but I didn’t. I got up, dressed and took the boiler out to the shed, where it was plugged in and on to full whack within ten minutes. After making myself a strong coffee, I got all the hops out of the freezer and started to get everything else I need out to the shed. It was at this point I realised that I’d not fitted the hop strainer to the boiler before the batch sparges, which meant having to plunge a rubber glove covered arm into 80°C wort to get it wedged into place.

I made a conscious decision to boil at a higher power than I have in the past. I’ve seen loads of photos of other peoples homebrew days and they all seem to have more hot break than I do, so I boiled harder to ensure I’d get a good hot break for a change. This had the side effect of increasing the expected boil off though and all the steam produced, also made the shed ceiling drip with liquid. I think I’m going to have to build some sort of extractor hood to fit over the top of the boiler, as it can’t be good for the shed to have that much hot moisture inside it.

Other than that, the boil was pretty uneventful, the hop additions all went in on time, as did half a protofloc tablet. I let the wort cool down to 80°C and then added a big load of hops to steep for twenty minutes to half an hour before getting the chiller on. I had a slight issue with the jubilee clips holding the rubber tubing to the chiller letting a tiny amount of water drip out and into the boiler. I need a better way of securing the tubing to the chiller, I’ll need to see if I can get some sort of John Guest fitting, or other compression fitting that I can secure onto the chiller ends.

Once the wort hit 23°C, I drained the boiler into the fermentation bucked, sprinkled a packed of Safale US-05 onto and gave it a quick mix with the mash paddle. Then the lid went on, the air lock was fitted and it was placed into the brew fridge, with the TC-10 set to 19°C with bounds of ±1°C. I then quickly emptied all the containers, quickly piled everything up and went back to join the family.

I was expecting to clean all the kit thoroughly in the evening after the kids had gone to bed, but I managed to fit it in while dinner was cooking. Over all, if I add up all the time taken, the split brew and clean up took nearly ten hours, my first two all grain attempts were both done and dusted in under eight. I know the stuck mashes didn’t help, but I think that I always slow down at the end and don’t get things cleaned up and put away as fast as I could, so there’s plenty of room to make this kind of split brew day go a lot faster.

Even though I know I’ve not brewed for a while and that my first five to ten all grain brews were all going to be about learning, I can’t help but be a bit disappointed. I’m pretty sure that I caused the stuck mash and forgetting things like fitting the hop strainer to the boiler, which I’ve done before, is annoying to say the least. Mostly I’m annoyed at how little volume I ended up with, I was shooting for 19 litres, I ended up with a touch over 12. So I’m going to have to do some calculations to work out boil off and losses to hops etc and feed that back into the calculations for the next brew.

Having said that I’m disappointed, it’s really great to have finally brewed again after so long. The wort I tasted from the sample jar after taking a gravity reading, tasted really sweet and quite full bodied. While it was also really bitter, it wasn’t harsh or astringent like my previous attempts, so I’m hopeful the campden tablets have done their thing and that the hop combination will result in a really flavourful beer.

I’ll be updating this post with more details on the beer, like terminal gravity and theoretical ABV etc. There’ll also be more photos of things like the dry hopping and bottling and maybe even some tasting notes. In the meantime, here’s the photos from the brew day(s):

Update: 21/03/12
I popped out to the shed this morning and took a gravity reading. There was little point in correcting for temperature, as 0.0005 of degree doesn’t really have much impact on the actual reading of 1.020. So I’m toying with dry hopping it this evening, as I’m expecting it to finish higher than anticipated due to the higher mash temperature.

Update: 23/03/12
I should really have taken a gravity reading and dry hopped last night when I got home form work, but I was too tired. So once the family was all up and fed, I popped out to the shed to take the gravity reading and see if the beer was ready for dry hopping. Just like Thursday morning, the temperature correction wasn’t really worth worrying about, so I’ll take it as reading 1.012, it’s getting there.

I mixed up a fresh batch of StarSan, mainly as I didn’t want to start on the peracetic until the next brew. After spraying the food processor bowl, I weighed out the remaining Galaxy hops, and enough of the Amarillo to leave 50g for the next brew. Then after whizzing them up for a few minutes, it was back out to the shed to sprinkle them into the fermenting wort.

I’ll give them two to three days at 19°C, before crashing the temperature down to to just 2°C for another couple of days before bottling. The idea being to precipitate out as much of the dry hop, yeast and trub as possible. This would mean bottling on Thursday night after work however and as Thursday is my wife’s birthday, I think I’ll probably be waiting till Friday…

Update: 27/03/12
I popped out to the shed this morning before work, as I needed to fiddle with the brew fridge. First I gave the dry hops a gentle stir, which released loads of luscious aromas, can’t wait to actually try this brew. Then I switched the thermostat down to 2°C, I’ll find out when I get home if that’s actually worked or not. Finally I popped up into my loft and got down a box of bottles, which need to be soaked to remove their labels.

For some reason I thought that this Thursday was my wife’s birthday, it’s not, it’s next Thursday. I also forgot that it’s Easter weekend, so I have Friday off work. Due to this mind muddle, I’ll be bottling on Friday, when I have more free time, hence why I waited until this morning to turn the temperature on the fridge down.

Update: 30/03/12
The last update saw the brew fridge thermostat being set to 2°C, unfortunately when I got home that evening, the low level alarm was flashing. I couldn’t remember which setting was the one to adjust it and I couldn’t find the instructions (turns out they were in my bedside table), just as well it was really cold that night. The following morning, I changed the low level alarm setting from 16°C to 0°C and left the fridge to it.

As the weather was due to be really cold, I decided to take the bucket out of the fridge on the Thursday night. Mainly so that any disturbed trub would have time to settle out over night. I also soaked twenty three bottles in hot water, so that I could take their labels off. This worked wonderfully well, even with the Oakham Green Devil and Moor labels, which are quite hard to get off. This meant that on Friday I just needed to clean the new bucket and syphon tubing I’d bought and crack on with the bottling.

So on Friday morning, after I’d got back from the gym, I made up a priming solution of spray malt and water, cleaned the bucket and tubing, put the bottles through the dishwasher and headed out to the shed to crack on with it. The temperature corrected specific gravity was 1.011, which is pretty much exactly the 81% attenuation you’d expect from US-05. This means a rough ABV of around 7.1%, which is ever so slightly higher than the 4.9% that I was aiming for originally!

The filling went without hitch, although I should have filled all twenty 500ml bottles, before filling the three 660ml ones, as I was left with two and a half empty bottles. However, upon trying to put caps on the 660ml bottles, I managed to snap off the top of one and crack the other two. I didn’t realise that this type of 660ml bottle doesn’t have the required step at the bottom of the neck to engage the capper. So whatever you do, don’t use the new style Moor bottles, which are the same one’s that Oakham’s Green Devil comes in, without a bench capper.

In the end I managed to fill all twenty 500ml bottles and there was enough beer left in the 660ml bottles that I could have had at least another one, if not two 500ml bottles. So I’m a bit disappointed, but you live and learn. If I’d used the old style Moor bottles, the same ones that Punk IPA comes in, there wouldn’t have been a problem.

The beer is currently sitting in the brew fridge, which has been set back to 19°C. It’ll be in there for a week or two while it conditions. I’m looking forward to trying a bottle, as the taste out of the sample jar was quite nice. I’m not however, looking forward to sticking twenty odd labels on…

Update: 07/04/12
I stuck the labels on all the bottles yesterday, they’re now looking pretty cool. Definitely the best looking batch of beer I’ve made so far. While I won’t be opening any for another week, I’ve put a load into the kitchen fridge, as it gives me something to look at when I open the door. Nothing worse than an empty shelf which should be full of beer…

Update: 30/04/12
And then it was gone! Without even realising it, I drank the last bottle yesterday evening. I was quite sad when I discovered that I didn’t in fact, have another couple of bottle stashed in the cupboard upstairs. For an accident, it was a really tasty beer. Yes, it had lots of issues, not enough carbonation, a bit too cloudy, no head retention, but it had bags of flavour, a great bitterness and the best nose of any beer I’ve made.

I have to say that the combination of Galaxy and Amarillo hops worked really well, especially with the Galaxy to the fore. I’m definitely going to brew with Galaxy again, maybe even in a single hop beer, so I can full understand the flavour.



I’m hoping to get a brew on later today, it’ll be the first time in about twenty months. So it’s probably about time I told the sorry tale of my first two all grain attempts. I’d come off the back of a run of about six malt extract brews and was ready to step up and finally have a go at doing it all properly. As I didn’t want to complicate things, I’d decided not to worry about any sort of water treatment for the first couple of brews, just so I could concentrate on the process. In hindsight this was a huge mistake.

I used the same recipe for both of these brews, unfortunately the exact recipe is lost in the mists of time, as it was on my old laptop which was stolen out of my car. I’m pretty sure that I’d used Simcoe and Amarillo in the boiler and Columbus as a dry hop, but my report of the first brew on Jim’s Home Brew Forum suggests that I used something similar to the recipe below:

Brew Length:
15 litres

Grain, aiming for OG of 1050:
95% Marris Otter (3312g)
5% CaraPils (174g)

90 min mash @ 65C

90 min boil with hops:
12g Cascade @ 90 mins
6g Simcoe @ 90 mins
21g Cascade @ 20 mins
10g Simcoe @ 20 mins
20g Cascade @ 0 mins for a 20 min steep
20g Simcoe @ 0 mins for a 20 min steep

Rogue Ales Pacman recovered from a bottle of Captain Sig’s Northwestern Ale.

From looking at the LibreOffice files I created to print off labels for both of these batches, I can see that I actually dry hopped with a combination of Amarillo and Columbus, although I have no idea about the quantity used.

I knew both batches had issues, I’d missed target volumes and gravities, but I was sort of expecting that kind of thing to happen until I got used to all the different steps. There was also something about the taste that wasn’t quite right though and I couldn’t put my finger on it. I just assumed that it was down to a failure in part of the process and would work itself out in future brews. As we were about to have an extension built, the brew kit was packed away in the loft, while the sheds were moved around the garden; I haven’t brewed since.

As it happened, my wife bought me an Adnams Brewery Tour for my birthday that year and when we went, I took a couple of bottles along and dropped them of for Fergus the head brewer. Imagine my horror a couple of week later, when I got a DM from Fergus telling me they were tainted with Chloramine, which manifests itself as a slightly antiseptic type taste. So when I got home that evening, I broke out the TCP and had a bit of a gargle, then I tried both batches of beer. I poured the few remaining bottles down the sink and emailed everyone I’d given any too to do the same; I was mortified that I hadn’t picked the taint out.

It turns out that my failure to do any sort of water treatment was the cause. Tap water has chlorine added to it, who knew, and if you don’t get rid of it before you mash, then you can end up with this kind of taint in your beer. There are a couple of ways to get rid of it; you an pre-boil your liquor the night before you brew, for around half an hour, or you can add half a crushed campden tablet per 25 litres of cold liquor and leave it for ten minutes before you heat it to strike temperature. It wouldn’t have taken much effort to do either of these and that’s a mistake I wont be making again, mainly as I’ve bought a tube of 50 campden tablets, which should last for a few brews.

Going forward, I’m still not going to concern myself with full on water treatment at the moment, at least not until I’ve got another couple of brews under my belt. I’ve already contacted Cambridge Water and received all the values I need to input into a water treatment calculator. I think I’ll save those for another blog though, as I need to get out to the shed and make make some tweaks to the brew fridge wiring in preparation for its first use.