Tuesday, 14 January 2014

BIAB #3 - Portland Steam...

Having had some relative success with the Black Forest Stout and despite my eagerness out weighing my actual experience, I wanted to go simple with my next brewing attempt. My orignal plan was to make a single malt, single hop brew, but it didn't take long for things to escalate. I had a variety of grains that I had only made a dent in, so I thought it'd make sense to use them up rather than let them go to waste. So after a quick browse through the recipe books I landed upon an American Amber Ale, a smooth easy drinking malt-heavy beer (think Rogue's American Amber Ale or Anchor Steam) which covered a lot of the ingredients I had in the pantry. The IBU can vary quite a bit with this style, but I wanted to brew something rather mellow this time so decided upon around 40 IBUs. As for the hop addition, I still had a good portion of loose leaf Willamette left over from my Black Forest Stout, which still had that great scent of raisins I had fallen in love with. It's a low alpha acid hop that will modestly bitter, but it's generally used for aroma, which suited my brew plan down to the ground. Also, as it's named after the river flowing through Portland, Oregon, the name of the beer came as a no-brainer.

So with the style and ingredients nailed I set about planning the recipe. With just half a kilo of Maris Otter in the cupboard, the only thing I needed to buy was some more base malt, ordered from The Malt Miller. Purely by accident I ended up with Pale Ale Malt, rather than another sack of Maris Otter, but on closer inspection it all worked out well as it had a slightly higher EBC. I set about compiling the recipe using BrewMate, a great free piece of brewing software that I have recently discovered and migrated to. It's through this I was able to fine tune the grain bill and hop amounts to get the desired colour and bittering.

 Name Type EBC Percentage Amount
Pale Ale MaltGrain5.773.33 %2.2 Kg
Maris Otter MaltGrain5.516.67 %0.5 Kg
Crystal 120Grain1206.67 %0.2 Kg
ChocolateGrain9501.67 %50 g
Flaked OatsAdjunct31.67 %50 g


 Name AA% Amount Use Time
Willamette7.1%20 gBoil60 mins
Willamette7.1%15 gBoil15 mins
Willamette7.1%5 gDry Hop0 mins

Out with the old...
With ingredients weighed, I calculated my liquor and sparge volumes and put the kettle on the boil. Five litres into filling the stock pot with hot water I dug out my digital thermometer, only to realise it had died a death. Note to self: check your kit before you begin! So with brewday paused, I ran into town and paid a visit to a local kitchenware store to pick up a new thermometer. This time I went for one with a probe, which would take the effort out of having to periodically check the temperature. So with new kit in hand, time to resume brewday.

McGyver at work.
With the liquor temperatures now precisely measured, the grain sacks were submerged, stirred, and the mash was a-go. The stock pot that came with the Massive Brewery kit is pretty lightweight and I had noticed it leaked heat from it's contents. With this in mind I fashioned an insulating jacket from some specialist thermal wallpaper, which is nothing more than thick card backed with a layer of polystyrene, but never-the-less it did the trick. It worked a treat with the boil resulting in a quicker, more vigorous boil than previous attempts. Card probably isn't the best material to use around liquids, however I did manage to keep it dry, but I will be looking for a waterproof alternative for next time.

With brewing done and the yeast pitched, I checked the gravity which was slightly out from what BrewMate had predicted - 1.044, instead of 1.060 - but this was fine as it still equates to around 4.5% ABV. I think I lost some efficiency in the mash due to using a slightly lower water volume, plus I don't think the narrow grain sacks I'm using are helping either as it's a pretty tight squeeze in there. I think next time I shall return to using 2.5 litres per Kg (rather than 2.4 litres) and will look to sewing a couple of new sacks with a bit more room to manoeuvre (well, the wife will be doing the work as I have zero experience with a sewing machine).

Anyway...the brew is currently bubbling away in the 10 litre FV and I shall be dropping a sack of Willamette in there in a few days time to impart some of that fantastic aroma! Fingers crossed it'll turn out how I envisioned.


Despite using only a tiny amount of Chocolate malt it really stood out in the young bottles. Whilst it wasn't unpleasant the beer didn't turn out how I had envisioned, so I was slightly disappointed, however Dom from Thornbridge attended the following brew club meetup and he rather liked it, stating that Chocolate malt was he favourite malt, which cheered me up no end. As the beer aged the flavours began to merge a little and what I ended up was half decent mild. So, not a bad brew after all.

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Happy Brew Year!

Although my homebrewing journey has only just begun, I feel like I've come such a long way. Starting off with a simple kit, I quickly progressed to full grain brews using Massive Brewery's stove-top BIAB kit. This move was imperative for me if I'm ever going to make top beers. I needed full control over every aspect and the results are worlds apart from my humble kit beginnings. I'm only two brews in and have already received positive praise from willing candidates whom have sampled them. The chaps down at the Macc Homebrew Club were very kind with their feedback and I've even had some coverage from the guys at BeerManchester and the Beer O'Clock Show:
On top of learning how to homebrew I also took to the web to discuss my journey through this very blog, which has certainly been a worthwhile endeavor. As well as it acting as an archive of all I've done, it has also given me the chance to make lots of new beery buddies, some of which I've had the pleasure to meet in person and some are virtual friends that I chat with via Twitter and Untappd. If I've ever needed any brewing advice there have been plenty of talented brewers out there, both amateur and professional, willing to impart invaluable knowledge. There really isn't a minute that goes by where there's not an opportunity to drunkenly discuss beer or brewing. 

This year has also been a great year for imbibing beers and with a quick peek at my Untappd stats, I've consumed some 234 beers, 202 of which being unique, since joining the site in August. For the last couple of years Macclesfield has been a great place to drink and with Red Willow opening it's own watering hole recently, with 15 keg and 5 cask lines, the choice of quality beers has grown it's only five minutes from my doorstep! Furthermore we now have a swanky little beer shop named Brewtique, which is always well-stocked with a wide selection of quality beers from all around the globe. So really, it comes as no surprise that I've consumed just over 200 different beers in the space of four months! My liver and wallet have both protested.

From all the beers sampled there have been some absolute corkers, from the likes of Pressure Drop, Burning Sky, BrewFist, Buxton Brewery, Thornbridge, Kernel, Great Heck Brewing, Quantum, Red Willow...the list goes on and on. It has certainly been a superb year for top brews, including a couple of beers that I took a particular shine to and would always partake in a swift half if the opportunity arose. 

Firstly, there's Five Points Brewing's Hook Island Red - a red rye ale that explodes in the mouth with flavour. It's an acquired taste and I've seen many a face screwed up in disgust, like licking lemon off a turd. I have to say, when I first sampled this on cask it had the aroma of kitchen bin. It's scent has improved somewhat with every batch, but thankfully, flavour-wise, it has remained as tasty as ever. Currently Five Points only has a line up of three core beers (all of which are excellent), so I'm excited about what 2014 has in store from these guys.

Tantum ergo Sacramentum
If there was one beer that stood head and shoulders above the rest in 2013, it was Northern Monk's Imperial Stout - Strannik. As well as being an absolutely incredible stout, it was also the most influential to me. The brewing Banksy behind this superb beverage is a homebrewer himself, or was - unfortunately for us he has semi-retired from this brewing malarkey and another has taken the reins as top brew monk at the Northern Monk Abbey. It really opened my eyes to the possibilities of homebrewing and where it could lead and with that in mind my flat cap shall be forever doffed sir...keep those puns coming! Let us not forget t'Monks other offering - New World IPA, a stunning hop heavy bitter pale ale that totally batters the taste a good way of course! Everyone I persuaded to sample it fell in love immediately.

So what's in store for the upcoming year? I'm hoping to hone my homebrewing skills even further, brewing various styles with the aim to reach a point where I'm happy enough to enter my beers into competition. Also, if there's any brewers out there that would like a helper for the day, please drop me a line as I would be grateful of the experience! I shall be continuing to work on this blog, maybe adding some resource sections for homebrew greenhorns such as myself, all the whilst *ahem* researching as many different beers as possible! So let's raise a glass to 2014!