Sunday, 27 October 2013

Part 4: Second Time Lucky...

So after my false start on the bottling front I decided to leave Alfie in peace for a few days. On my next available night I performed another gravity test, which was still at 1.008, telling me this time it was definitely ready to go! Whooo! So with bottles cleansed and rinsed...again, I mentally prepared myself for the task ahead...

Having used a kit for my first attempt I obviously didn't have any influence over the general flavour of the beer I chose, but I did wonder whether I could enhance it in any way at the secondary fermentation stage.

Alfie relinquishing
the dark stuff.
So before beer touched bottle, I decided to do a bit of research on what effects using different priming sugars would have on the end result. It seemed that the use of darker sugars would be fine for priming, the yeasts would eat up the sugars and leave behind a flavour that would compliment a porter or stout. So I rummaged through the cupboards dug out every type of sugar we had - white, light brown, dark brown and muscavado (I thought it best to leave out the icing sugar). I also discovered a tin of "Trick or Treacle", a Lyle's limited edition black eyes lit up! I hit the net to see what was the best way of getting this sticky goo into bottles with minimal mess. The method was obvious and simple - batch priming; mix the treacle with some of the beer in a separate container and pour that into the bottles. Easy as that! This would also ensure I got an even distribution between bottles keeping the content consistent. So I boiled up a tablespoon of the jet black treacle with a dash of water and added a teaspoon of quality instant coffee just for an added dimension. Once mixed I tipped it into a sterilised jug with a litre of beer and poured it straight into a couple of bottles. Two down, thirty eight to go!

Beer, sweet beer...
To simply enjoy my efforts, I stuck to the instructions and used plain white sugar for the majority of the bottling, and then for experimentation purposes I bottled four of each with the darker sugars. This time I didn't bother with the batch mixing method, instead opting for a small funnel and a measuring spoon.

It didn't take long until I got into my stride and had an efficient production line on the go - put the sugar in half a dozen bottles, dispense beer, line them up for capping, mark caps to denote the sugar type used, move to storage...and repeat. Before I knew it I was done, all forty bottles filled, hurrah! Now I have to just sit and wait for a couple of weeks until I can sample my spoils.

Saturday, 26 October 2013

Macc Homebrew Meetup...

One thing I wanted when I delved into this home brew marlarky was to seek out like minded amateur beer chemists to chew the fat with, so I asked around the local beery haunts of Macclesfield to see if anyone knew of any local homebrew clubs, but unfortunately everyone drew a blank. So the plan was to start one up time permitting, but it looks like someone beat me to it! The first meet is to take place at 7PM on the 19th of November at the Red Willow bar, if you're interested in attending just drop @macchomebrew a tweet. Hope to see you there!

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Need More Input...

Before I embarked on my new brewing pass time I wanted to get to know the ins and outs of homebrewing, so like some kind of fleshy Johnny Five I went on the rampage for more input, ordering books willy-nilly for all corners of the internet. Here I give a rundown of the books I've acquired and my thoughts from a beginners point of view.

The Homebrew Handbook - Dave Law and Beshlie Grimes
This was the first book I ordered when I set out on this little adventure, and with what little knowledge I had at the time I did find it very informative. It has a punky vibe to it's design, which is fine for your initial read through, but for a pickup reference guide it makes it a little difficult to quickly scan through. There are 75 bare bones recipes included, so you can get you grips with the basic styles before you begin experimenting.

Home Brew Beer - Greg Hughes
I always associate Dorling Kindersley with kids books about dinosaurs or pond life, and initially when you flick through the pages it does have that kind of feel about it. However, once you get stuck in you realise it's clear, concise and goes into a bit more depth than The Homebrew Handbook. It's clarity also lends itself more as a reference guide, with the edges of the pages denoting each section making it a breeze to flick through. It has 100 recipes and for a lot of them it also instructions for the malt extract version.

The Radical Brewer - Randy Mosher
I bought this based on an indirect Twitter recommendation from Jay Krause of Quantum Brewing. I wanted more input, and I most definitely got it! This book is so packed full of information it'll blow your mind, but it's all written in an easy going and amusing manner that makes for a really entertaining read. The way Randy talks in this book has really struck a chord with me, with where I am now and where I want to be, essentially - do your own thing, go crazy, make great beers and enjoy it because you're a brewing wizard! It also has a plethora of spells recipes with names like "Mister Boing Boing" and "Dragon's Milk"...brilliant! I can see this becoming my bible when I get stuck into some proper brewing.

The Complete Homebrew Handbook - Various
Just when I thought I was done with my pursuit of physical reading material I spotted this. It's part magazine, part book - a bookazine if you will, and although it initially covers the usual stuff, such as history, terminology, methods, etc., the real selling point for me were the recipes. It doesn't feature the usual generic beers, instead opting for recipes of well loved brews from the likes of Thornbridge, Quantum, Magic Rock, Weird Beard, Wild Beer Co and Mikkeller, but to name drop a few! There's even a recipe for Kernel's Export India Stout included, one of my favorite tipples of recent happy am I? Extremely! Though I expect my results will not be quite as polished as Kernel's efforts (I mean c'mon, who's would be?), but it'll still be great to have a bash and will no doubt be an interesting exercise. There's also a handy section of useful tips from the said brewers too for fledgling homebrewers such as myself. Overall it's well written, in depth and packed full of detail. Definitely worth seeking out.

Monday, 21 October 2013

BrewDog Collab Fest...

If you missed the buzz surrounding the BrewDog Collab Fest, the general gist is that the fine folk from each BrewDog bar across the land chose a favorite local microbrewery and collaborated with them to create a special tipple. There were twelve beers and eleven brewers, with the final beer being a super-collab hop monster, which involved all the master brewsmen and women paying a visit to BrewDog's mega brewery to conjure up a beer made from twelve different hops. They each got to choose which hop variety to use and at what stage of the brewing process it was added. Oh my, this shit just got real!

My plan was to hit BrewDog Manchester early doors and sample thirds of all twelve creations before things got too busy. Thankfully I arrived just before a mental rain shower hit, it was like the end of the world was nigh! I considered building an ark out of beer mats and Hop Propaganda magazines so I could save the beers two-by-two. Thankfully the storm didn't last long and I could get down to just sampling them instead. Here are my thoughts, in the order I drank them:

Raspberry Beret - Quantum Brewing (5.0% ABV)
Quantum's concoction had more raspberry on the nose than in flavour, with a slight fruity hint lingering behind a lovely smoky chocolate stout. I was expecting more of a berry kick than it delivered, but that is in no way a criticism, it was a delicious well crafted beer.

Two local brews.

The Black Pale of the 7 'C's - Buxton Brewery (4.0% ABV)
The name derives from the seven varieties of hops, all beginning with the letter 'C' (I'll let you work them out). Obviously, it is full of citrusy hop complexity working in total harmony with a bitter finish. We're off to a cracking start!

Marmalade on Toast - Tempest (6.0% ABV)
Using toasted malts and loads of orange zest and ginger this was a well balanced beer that really did resemble its namesake. Although I did find it was very, very sweet (and I even have a sweet tooth!), so much so that I was struggling to finish even a third of this stuff! It would make a cracking dessert beer.

Jephers The Big Red Dog - Hand Drawn Monkey Brewing Co. (5.0% ABV)
Oh dear, something went wrong. This was without a doubt the biggest disappointment of the evening, and it seems that a lot of other Collab Fest goers were in agreement. This red rye saison was supposed to pack a punchy orange and ginger hit, but it ended up more of a damp squib! It was flat and weak, like watered down ginger cordial. Personally, I think if you're going to use ginger as a primary flavour it really needs to kick you in the packet, like Marble Ginger for example (which makes the back of my head go tingly every time I have it!).

Raucous Rubus - The Durham Brewery (5.7% ABV)
I don't normally go for fruity beers unless they're tart...and that's exactly what I got with Durham's raspberry saison. It was sharp and fresh, a real palate cleanser and just what I needed after the previous offering. The missus said it tasted like a sour boiled sweet, no argument there.

Dark Matter - Beavertown Brewery (3.8% ABV)
From one sour beer to another, this time a Berliner Sour Stout. Simply put, this beer is insane! But, you wouldn't expect anything less from the guys at Beavertown would you? Under the dim light of the bar this brew looked very dark, and murky, so much so it seemed to be absorbing the surrounding light! It also looked to be flat, I took a swig and to my surprise it came alive in the mouth, fizzing nicely on the tongue, which distracted me momentarily...then BAM! The sour comes flying out of the murk and attacked the taste spuds with such ferocity my eyes popped out of my skull, and before I could even draw breath it was gone...just leaving behind a mellow coffee stout aftertaste. I was left grinning from ear-to-ear! If this is the stuff that binds our universe together then call me Neil Armstrong, because I'm hopping on the next space shuttle outta here!

Lining up the "shots".

12 Hope Pale Ale - Everyone! (5.2% ABV)
This super-collab between all the brewers involved is certifiably schizophrenic. You are hit with a multitude of flavours within a split second of taking a mouthful. It's all over the place and it probably shouldn't have worked, but it did! I guess with that much talent on hand it would have been hard to cock this one up.

48 Miles Later - Fyne Ales (6.0% ABV)
Chili always worries me in beer as I've had some complete stinkers in the past that have tasted more like detergent. I needn't have worried though, the experienced chaps at Fyne know their stuff and they delivered a gorgeous smoky black IPA (beechwood smoked malts) with a slight earthy hint of chipotle and ancho chilies that just tingled on the tongue.

Camden BearD - Weird Beard Brew Co. (6.0% ABV)
This American pale ale had a fantastic aroma, which continued into the drink. Possibly a bit too soapy for some folk, but I actually enjoyed the respite from the more big hitters of the night.

Black Rocker - Cromarty Brewing Co. (5.0% ABV)
Another dark smokey beer, but with some great hoppage going on. Not a lot else to say about this one. Can you tell my tasting notes are getting thinner as the evening wears on?

Happy Ending - Lovibonds (5.0% ABV)
I wish I had ended on this one. It was a really crisp, refreshing tipple, with hints of ginger and a citrus hit from the lemongrass and lime leaves. This would have been perfect on a hot summers day.

Pirate Badger Attacks - Arbor (7.8%)

It's a great name and what sounded like interesting brew - an Imperial Brown Coconut IPA. By this point my tastebuds were completely smashed to pieces, what with all the sour, smoky, ginger chili brews that I had consumed through out the night. I honestly couldn't taste the coconut, but I could definitely smell it. The wife (who had this one earlier on in the night) did say if Malibu ever made beers, it would resemble this.

. . .

As we were tackling our last third I decided to corner Jay Krause from Quantum, who was on hand to lend his support and chat with fellow beer fans. I quizzed him about the trials and tribulations of turning pro, and he offered much in the way of encouragement and valuable knowledge. I also got an offer to visit the brewery at some point, possibly because he'd be glad of an extra pair of hands. After we had spoken I did wonder if I could increase my brewing skill by growing a real beard? I usually sport a long stubble, teetering on the edge of beardom, which must only grant me something like +1 brewing skill. Where as Jay's "Beard of Chaos" must bestow +100 brewing skill or something, judging by his results. Just saying.

Anyway, on top of the fabulous beers, one of the highlights of the night was the group of bemused Man United fans, who popped in for a quick post-match scoop, wondering why people were racking up "shots" of beer on paddles. I don't think they could get their heads around the concept of a "third", especially when looking at those BrewDog prices! Suffice to say they only stuck around for one round.

All in all it was a superb night, but my wallet definitely didn't appreciate it! Well done to everyone involved!

Further impressions of the Collab Fest can be found at ThisBeerBlog and The BeerCast.

Friday, 18 October 2013

Cuckoo Brew-ventures...

After what was supposed to be a "two halves and then home" evening at the Red Willow gaff, which spiralled into a fantastic Italian ale tasting session (from the likes of BrewFist, ToccalMatto and Birrificio Italiano), my head is feeling a bit on the tender side this morning. So whilst having a medicinal cup of coffee earlier I had a quick scan through Twitter and spotted a retweet from Manc brewer Blackjack Beers bringing my attention to an interesting write up on Othertonales Blog. The article chronicles the aspiring author's recent visit to Blackjack Beers to cook up his own homebrew concoction on Marble Brewery's old kit. It's interesting to read from an amateur brewer's perspective, the move from a homebrew set up to adapting a recipe for larger professional equipment, all with the aim of going commercial with the results. I think I shall be keeping a close eye on that blog...

Thursday, 17 October 2013

Part 3: Maybe a Bit Eager...

Having watched a big white tub like an expectant father to be it was almost time (according to the instructions) to put the dark stuff into bottles for the next step of the fermentation process. Before this could happen a bit of prep work needed to be done.

A couple of nights before, I had poured a sample to perform a gravity check, which came out at 1.010 (the OG was 1.040), confirming something had occurred inside the bucket; hopefully it was my little yeasty friends working their magic. I gave the murky liquid a quick sniff and it definitely smelled like beer, not a great beer mind, but I was at least pleased there had been no intervention by bacterial bastards.

Cleansed and ready to go...nowhere.
The night before bottling I decided to get the bottles prepped to give them chance to dry. Whilst the prospect of bottling was very exciting; seeing my efforts trickle into their final resting place before impending consumption, the sterilisation of the bottles most definitely wasn't. Singing "40 Brown Bottles" just reminded me of how many I had left to clean, and furthermore they're plastic and wouldn't break if they fell anyway, I'd just end up having them clean them again. I had to stay focused, I was not out of the woods yet and attention to cleanliness at this point dictates who gets to glug this beer - me or the sink! After what seemed like hours (in reality it was only around 20 minutes), the last bottle was rinsed out and I could get on with doing something more interesting.

The next evening the brewery/kitchen was jumping with excitement (just from me) - Dark Matter was to be bottled! Hurrah! Everything was laid out and ready to go; measuring spoons...check, a selection of sugars for priming...check, 40 very, very clean bottles...check. I tapped Alfie for a second sample and performed another gravity test - it was 1.008! Cripes, Alfie was still not done! I was actually a little pleased because at 1.010 it would have been a mere 4% ABV, which was a little weaker than I was expecting. An executive decision was taken to leave the black stuff until my next available evening, three days later...

I did feel slightly disappointed about this false start, maybe I was a little too eager, but it is a learning process after all. So what lessons did I learn by this episode? 
  1. That there are so many factors involved in brewing you can't take the instructions of the back of a packet as de facto. (Not that I plan on using kits in the future anyway)
  2. Don't wash your bottles before checking that the beer is actually ready to be bottled...saves you having to rewash those damn bottles!
  3. The brew will be ready when it's ready.
Oh and I also noticed that Beavertown's BrewDog collab is also called Dark Matter, damn them! Whether the accumulation of brewing experience that has gone into crafting their beer make it better than my own kit effort, that still remains to be seen, but I'll let them have this one (I'm obviously joking here!). I will be paying a visit to BrewDog Manchester this Saturday to sample their brew...along with the other 11 collab beers of course!

Monday, 14 October 2013

IMBC 2013 Coverage...

Damn blast the gods! Unfortunately, I was unable to attend this years Independent Manchester Beer Convention and just had to make do with spectating the festivities via the power of Twitter. If like me you couldn't make it, fear not, as my fellow beer-bloggers over at BeersManchester and All Beer No Belly have written up their take on the event. So grab yourself a top beer, your chosen electronic internet reading device and head to the bathroom, it might not be quite as majestic as Victoria Baths, but it's probably the best you're going to get until next year!

Update: Another write has hit the interweb courtesy of The BeerCast.

Update #2: The second part BeersManchester's IMBC adventures has landed, and more musing can be found at Tyson's Beer & Cheese Blog.

Update #3: Two more for your reading pleasure over at The Evening Brews and Beer Battered.

Saturday, 12 October 2013

Part 2: Get yer brew on...

With kit in possession it was time to get down to the nitty-gritty and get some brewing on the go, but we're not going anywhere with the equipment in bits. 

I was always handy with Lego and Meccano when I was a kid, to the point where my mother suspected I might be on the autistic spectrum, so I didn't expect this step to pose any problems...and it didn't. The instructions supplied were concise (not that I really need them of course!) and there was support available should I have needed it. I took extra special care to make sure the tap attached to the bottom of the fermenting bucket was water tight, I didn't fancy cleaning up a 5 gallon puddle of malty mess from the kitchen floor first thing in the morning.
Don't touch it,
don't even look
at it!

If there's one thing that's hammered home whilst I was researching the way of the home brew it was cleanliness. It doesn't matter what you do in any other step of the brew process, if you've got bugs on your kit, your beer will be sh*t! So I wanted to make sure I didn't fall foul at this important step and in my mind I thought I might purchase some clean room overalls. In reality, I wasn't working on a satellite for NASA, so just jeans and t-shirt were fine (although I did wear clean jeans and t-shirt just for peace of mind). I added the recommended amount of sanitiser and hot water into my bucket, chucked in anything else that needed sterilizing, and left it for the required time. Then I rinsed it out numerous times - five swirls left, five swirls right, ditch and repeat. CSI would be hard pushed to find any trace of DNA in that bad boy!

Cleaning chores done, the magic can begin! Following the instructions on the back of the beer kit, I empty the warm gooey contents into the bucket, mixing it with boiling water and the supplied brewing sugar. As I stir the steaming solution like some kind of brew-wizard, a great sense of satisfaction washed over me, I'm only bloody making beer people! No one else was around to enjoy this moment, but I did a little dance. YEAH! *skyward fist thrust*

With the mixture well and truly mixed, I topped it up to the 23 litre mark with cold water and sprinkled on the magic ingredient - the yeast. Like microscopic astronauts, I saluted, wished them luck on their journey and sealed the capsule. At this point I start to become paranoid about the bucket not being air tight, despite the liberal smearing of Vaseline applied around the lid and airlock. Don't panic!

Alfie in action...
I stood watching it expecting some kind of violent chemical reaction, instead I was just watched relaxed dark liquid in a big white tub. Beer brewing isn't a spectacle. At this point you have no idea whether it'll be a success, it's a waiting game and you can't influence the results by just staring at it. I felt so helpless. But wait, it still needs me! The temperature needs to be kept between 20-25°C for optimal fermentation, so with brew belt at the ready, I frequently monitored the thermometer strip to the point where it was manifesting into an obsessive compulsive disorder.

After a few days of around the clock monitoring, the dark liquid (since named Dark Matter) began to show signs of life - foam was forming on the surface and the pressure had started to build leading to some activity in the airlock. Alfie was alive! At this point my first time nerves began to subside and I started to feel a bit more relaxed about the whole process. I'm now counting down the days until phase 3 - the bottling!

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Part 1: An Expected Journey...

Hello there! I suspect there won't be many people reading this, but I figured writing a blog to regurgitate the things I have learnt in a pixel form would help all this information stick in my addled mind. So let me begin...

I enjoy beer (I mean what kind of weirdo doesn't?), but I'm in no way a beer expert, I like what I like without any pretention. However, I had never considered brewing my own tipple, surely you'd need a laboratory and scientists to produce something tasty and none toxic to human beings? Well, after a bit of research I realised it's actually possible to create beer with lo-fi kit that are near the quality of the ones I enjoy in my favourite drinking haunts, after all, this is how a lot of my fave brewers started life. A primordial brew of ideas and passion leading to the birth of a beer, what could be more beautiful? That passion has now got its hooks in me and I want to go beyond being just a drinker of fine ales, but to producing my own beer that I enjoy, and hopefully other people too!

The Homebrew Handbook
in my hand.
Before embarking on any ventures of this sort it's obviously wise to do your research. I read many a blog, forum posts and followed top micro-brewers on Twitter; wringing what information I could out of their daft tweets. I bought a book - The Homebrew Handbook by Dave Law and Beshlie Grimes, which I found very informative and will no doubt be useful in the coming months with its "75 recipes for the aspiring backyard brewer". With terminology and methods now etched in my brain I now had an idea of what was involved...I was ready for phase one, buying some kit.

The kit, minus loads of
empty bottles.
So I scouted around the web for a home brew starter kit, which wasn't a difficult task, there are loads of the damn things out there! Regardless of the branding they all pretty much contain the same equipment, so it was just a case of picking one up for a decent price. I went with a starter from the folk at Home Brew Online for the grand total of £58.95, which included everything you could possibly need, with the exception of a heating device, and with winter fast approaching I threw in a heating belt for good measure. As for the beer kit itself, I went with an Export Stout from Simply, I'm enjoying my dark ales at the moment (probably a bit too much!) and thought this would be a good starting point. It comes in a pouch (a bit like a packet of Uncle Ben's Microwave rice) instead of the traditional can, which according to the blurb is cold filled with the malt extract which should produce a fresher tasting beer. Not knowing any different, it sounded all good to me. Alright purists, so this isn't "proper" beer brewing, but I wanted to get my head around the equipment involved at this stage of the brew process before moving on to creating my own concoctions.
Anyway, after many failed delivery attempts, I eventually got my grubby mitts on the equipment, and to mark it being my first brew kit it was named Alphatron 1.0 (can you tell I'm a geek?). The wife didn't like this name so it has since been nicknamed "Alfie". Time to get my hands dirty, onwards to phase 2...