Monday, 21 December 2015

FastFerment Review...

With my increase in brew volumes I had been looking to pick up a couple of extra FVs to spread the load. As always with this brewing game you want the latest kit and I had my eyes on the FastFerment conical vessels, but at £85 it was a bit steep considering I could get a perfectly good tried-and-tested Speidel vessel for half the price. About the time I was shopping around I received an email from the head honcho at, Greg Hughes (also author of the excellent Home Brew Beer), asking if I would be interest in taking a FastFerment for a trial run. The timing was so perfect that I actually queried if he had been checking my browsing history! Obviously I took him up on his offer!

A few weeks later a hefty package arrived.

Unpacking it you soon realise it’s serious kit. There’s lots of parts and even an instruction manual. It’s worth spending some time just checking it over before assembly as I found a few plastic strands on the threads as a result of the manufacturing process that needed removing. The manual actually suggested you to screw everything on and off a few times just to smooth out the threads. A roll PTFE is also included so make sure you tape all the threads and then perform a wet run, the last thing you want is for it to be beer to leak out when you fill it for the first time. It did take me a couple of attempts to plug a leak coming from the thermowell thread. On first impressions the build quality is not quite up to the standard of the Speidel FVs I’ve been using recently, but it's easily overlooked with features such as the handy volume markings and the aforementioned thermowell.

So what benefits do you get from a conical fermenter? Firstly as the trub settles in the cone, you’re left a smaller surface area in contact with the beer, as opposed to a flat bottomed FV, thus lowering the risk of that dead matter imparting any flavour. Not that I think this has ever been a problem on small scale brewing, but I guess every positive tweak to your methods helps create a cleaner beer. Secondly, and this is probably the top reason for going conical, situated at the bottom of the cone is a valve which allows you remove the trub/yeast matter, leaving your beer in situ, so that it can condition without having to rack to another vessel. The FastFerment makes this process even easier by supplying a secondary collection vessel that you can attach the bottom, allowing you to draw out the yeast, keeping the system sealed and thus lowering any chance of infection. Plus you can then save the yeast for future brews, saving you a bit of cash in the long run.

As you can see from the photos the manufacturer has opted for a teardrop shaped vessel, which obviously is not going to stand upright on it’s own. They’ve got around this by supplying wall brackets that the vessel sits on, which is a great idea if you have ve got available wall space, but I didn’t! Thankfully you can buy a separate floor stand, which is a bit pricey at just over £30. On the stand with the airlock attached, it’s nearly a metre off the floor, which means I’ve got no chance of squeezing this in my fermentation fridge. With winter drawing in it’s going to get pretty cold in the brewshed, so I needed to think of someway of getting some heat into this thing.

Once the brewday had rolled around I planned to do a split batch, half in the FastFerment and half in my trusty Speidel, which is fully temperature controlled. For the FastFerment I would have to monitor this aspect manually. After a bit of head scratching about how I was actually going to achieve this, given the odd shape of the vessel, I hit on an idea. I still had an old brew belt knocking around from my early days of homebrewing, which sat nicely around the vessel just above the top of the stand. I also had a spare heating which I positioned directly underneath. To insulate it I sat it on a square of silver bubble wrap type insulation and wrapped another sheet around it, which came half way around the vessel. It was a total bodge job, but it worked a treat! With heat being applied underneath and the top of the vessel open to the cold temperatures I actually succeeded in keeping it a steady temperature around 20 degree mark! I’ve since seen that the FastFerment guys have released an insulated jacket, but like all the official peripherals - it’s pretty pricy.

So far so good.

After a few days of fermentation I could visibly seen the trub building up. I decided now would be a good time to draw off some of that yeast. I opened the valve and at first nothing happened, the trub was quite thick so it took a few seconds for it to work it’s way down. Once it started dripping into the collection vessel, the beer above could flow through and drag the rest of the matter with it. I managed to collect a decent amount before it was just the beer coming through. A few days later another trub layer had settled, and needing to draw off a sample I decided to stick the hose barb on and just drain and dump the trub to get to the fresh beer above. This was easier said than done! Due to the gloopy nature of the trub clinging to the sides of the vessel it was nigh on impossible to get a clean sample. In the end my figures show I lost 4.5 litres worth of good beer over the course of the fermentation process. The need for a secondary valve sat above the trub cake was obvious, something that can be easily remedied with a drill and decent valve, but when you’re paying a lot of money for an FV this seems a bit of slap in the face.

This leads me on to my second issue. If you’re using the collection vessel to drain the trub you have liquid and matter swapping places with air, so the pressure inside the vessel stays the same. If you use the hose barb fitting you need to allow some air to get in the top or else you’ll be sucking in the liquid from the airlock, which is what happened to me! Thankfully it was just a bit of Star-san so no harm done. The next time I did it I decided to take out the floating section of the airlock, however that’s easier said than done. It’s so small and sits so far down the main airlock that you can’t actually get to it without child sized hands, instead I fashioned a makeshift hook to get in there to lift it out! Again, something easily remedied with a better airlock.

When it came to bottling the FastFerment worked a treat. With the trub removed what was left in the vessel was going straight into bottles, but I couldn't help but think of the amount of beer I lost to get to that point. In comparison, I lost just 1 litre of beer in my Speidel FV to trub sludge. So any other complaints? Whilst the addition of a thermowell is welcomed, the positioning of it isn't great, in the cone section pointing downwards, so if you’re using the stand you need to get on your hands and knees to view the dial, which is another additional cost (it’s not great quality either).

So would I continue to use it? I’d have to say no. I found it just far too awkward and fiddly to use and the pros were soon crushed under the weight of the cons. For the hefty price tag I would have expected something that was a considerable step up in quality to a standard barrel type fermentor. The price of the vessel and all the other bits comes to just over the £130 mark, for just a little bit more you could pick up an equivalently sized stainless steel vessel from SS BrewTech which looks a much more tidy solution. If you’ve got the wall space and can make use of the supplied brackets it’s a more ideal solution as the cost is then midrange, sitting between your standard plastic buckets and the premium vessels as mentioned above.

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

What's Going On?

It's been a while since I last posted on here, heck I've only just noticed I haven't even written up my last brew, but there's been a very good reason for that! I've been busy setting up as a microbrewery, so obviously my time and attention has been diverted elsewhere. The brewery is simply named - Macclesfield Brewing Company (or Macc Brew Co. for short). I toyed around with various names for a while, but in the end decided to keep it geographical. Macclesfield is becoming a boomtown for beer, we have lots of bars, pubs and bottle shops selling hundreds upon hundreds of quality...dare I say it? Craft...beers. It made sense to get a foothold in this growing scene.

Macc Brew Co. certainly is not going to set the world on fire, not to begin with anyway! I'll be sticking with the same 100 litre kit I've been using for home brewing and producing limited bottle runs of beers I would find interesting if I had spotted them on the shelf of my local bottle shop. There won't be a core range, instead opting to brew beers based on what ingredients are available around the time of brewing, though no doubt I will probably end up re-brewing anything that has proved popular, I mean it is a business after all!

I've not 100% decided on what the first beers will be, but I want to hit the market with something interesting, so I'll probably go with tried and tested beers that have been highly acclaimed by other folk in the past. Obvious contenders would be DANG, my Lime Pickle IPA and just in time for Christmas, the Black Forest Stout (although there may be a twist). So far I've had some encouraging interest from bottle shops in the area, so much so that I reckon I'll only just be meeting demand straight out of the traps, which will look great on the books for when I want to upgrade the brewery!

I shall be doing my first commercial brew this weekend, so with any luck we will have beers on the shelves in a couple of weeks’ time. If you want to keep up with what's happening with the brewery you can find us on Twitter under @maccbrewco.

Saturday, 29 August 2015

AG #4 - autosuggestion Black IPA

Despite being a lover of IPAs of the black variety, I have for some reason never got around to brewing one - this needed to remedied! Having just put down Mikkeller’s Book of Beer, I was feeling suitably enthused. In the book was a recipe for Firestone Walker’s Wookey Jack, a rye heavy black IPA that sounded absolutely delicious! Luck would have it that someone had just imported a stack of Firestone’s beer, one of which was this very brew. I made it my mission to get my mitts on a bottle, which the kind folk at Beermoth supplied with me. It was blummin’ marvelous! So I immediately pencilled in a BIPA brew into my schedule.

Needing a name, and with nothing jumping off the top of my head, I required something that could make some kind of auto suggestion. Bingo! ‘Autosuggestion’ is the name of a Joy Division song, which much like every song they ever did, is a pretty dark affair and you can’t get much darker than a Black IPA. It was a marriage made in hell! Plus, with living in Macclesfield, and just down the road from where Ian Curtis lived and died, it seemed a logical tribute. It didn’t really happen like that, I just thought the name was great and had always wanted to match it up with a dark beer.

Before concocting a recipe, I had another read of Port66’s Black IPA Brewing Tips, which was written by James Kemp, brewer of many-a-decent BIPA. This is a must read! With the knowledge committed to memory I set about building the beer. Some of my favourite BIPAs border on a hoppy porter (see Great Heck’s Black Jesus). I wanted to replicate this, so I went slightly heavier on the chocolate malt, only a few percent mind, but enough to be noticeable. For the hops I went for the mainstay of hoppy beers, Citra and Amarillo. I do have some Topaz pellets in the store that needed to be used so I was toying with the idea of using them to dry hop.

To tighten up my brewing process, this time I came prepared! All the hop additions were clearly labelled up and stacked in order, so no accidental hop additions this time. Having only just started to use Beersmith in anger, I realised you could print out a useful brew schedule which was good to have to hand when weighing and working out timings. For this brew day I also had a brewery assistant, Sam, on hand to help out. This meant that I didn’t need to divide my time so much between different tasks, I could just leave him with the sheet and he knew the score.

I planned for a ‘low and long’ mash schedule, at 64 degrees and held for 90 minutes. Once again going with a gut instinct strike temp calculation, I was around .5 of a degree out, which was easy to remedy. Knowing that my kit usually drops a couple of degrees during the mash, I planned to bring my old Brupak boiler out of retirement to do a bit of recirculating, without recirculating, so in reality a single stage decoction. After around 60 minutes it dropped a degree, so I drew off 4-5 litres and set the Brupak to around 80 degrees. Once it tripped off I transferred the hot wort back into the mash, which worked an absolute treat, bringing the temp back up to where I wanted it for remainder of the mash.

Nothing particularly exciting occurred during the boil...

When it came to cooling, again I got to use the Behemoth chiller, which managed to get down to 21 degrees within around 30 minutes. It was only when I transferred into the FV the temp controller reported the temperature as being 16 degrees! Fearing that the controller was buggered, I drew off a sample and dunked a good old liquid thermometer in, sure enough it was 16 degrees, so it was actually my digital thermometer that was out. So, this new chiller of mine had actually managed to get down to 16 degrees in 30 minutes, which I think you’ll agree, is pretty impressive!

After pitching I decided to leave the temperature to rise naturally in the hope of squeezing out some fruity esters, with peaking at 22 degrees for a couple of days. Once it started to drop, I switched on the temperature controller to keep it at a steady 20 degrees. After a week it had dropped from 1.048 to 1.012, making it around the 4.7% mark, which I was happy with. Time to dry hop the hell out of it. I stuck with my original additions of Citra and Amarillo and decided I would crack open the Topaz pellets after all, for some added fruitiness. The combo seems to have worked well, with the fruity Topaz fleshing out the other hop additions.

My target was to mirror the liquorice blackcurrant vibe that Buxton’s Black Rocks has (one of James Kemp’s own creations), thankfully this is what I got! It’s easy drinking with some resinous bitterness.

Update: After a couple of weeks this was really in a sweet spot, but just a week later the hops had faded fast and what I was left with is a roasty porter with some slight fruity notes. It was certainly still drinkable, but not quite what I was looking for. Since then I’ve sent a water sample off to Murphy & Son for analysis (via BrewUK) to see what improvements could be made to my water to improve hop utilisation. The results show that for hop forward beers I was way out with my minerals, but not too bad for darker malty beers, which I’ve always had great success with. So with a store cupboard now full of water treatment I shall schedule in a hoppy brew and expect to see a difference. Stay tuned!

Grain Bill...
5.5 kg Maris Otter (88%)
300 g Munich (4.8%)
250 g Chocolate (4%)
200 g Carafa III (3.2%)

Hop Bill...
30 g Topaz Leaf (16.3% Alpha) (First wort)
30 g Citra Leaf (12% Alpha) 10 mins (Boil)
45 g Amarillo Leaf (9.2% Alpha) (Steep/Whirlpool)
45 g Citra Leaf (12% Alpha) (Steep/Whirlpool)
55 g Amarillo Leaf (9.2% Alpha) 3 days (Dry hop)
25 g Citra Leaf (12% Alpha) 3 days (Dry hop)
10 g Topaz Pellet (16.2% Alpha) 3 days (Dry hop)

Single step infusion at 64°C for 90 Minutes
Fermented for 2 days at 22°C (left to rise naturally) with White Labs Pacific Ale yeast (WPL041), then dropping to 20°C for 5 days.

OG: 1.048
FG: 1.012
ABV: 4.7%

Friday, 14 August 2015

Macc Homebrew Change Venues...

I was just sat here trying to recall how long the Macclesfield Homebrew Club has been going and came to the startling realisation that we're coming up to our 2nd anniversary! It just seems like yesterday that we were all sat around the massive round tables in Red Willow all getting to know each other! However, next time we meet it won't be in Red Willow. Macclesfield's No.1 bottle shop has recently moved to bigger premises, allowing them to squeeze in a few tables and a bar, plus they're not normally open Tuesdays so we would have free reign of the place - it made sense. The main reason for the move was simple, just to have a bit of peace and quiet! We've been struggling for a while to talk to each other sat around those big tables, when there's music playing and punters enjoying themselves (how dare they!).

Other than the venue, nothing else has changed! So if you fancy meeting up with some fellow homebrewers, pop down! Everyone is welcome! We meet the last Tuesday of every month, at 7:30PM, and just to reiterate the new meeting place is Brewtique, now located in the market square (a few doors down from Pizza Express).

Sunday, 21 June 2015

Need More Input Part 4...

Experimental Homebrewing - Drew Beechum and Denny Conn
Ever since reading Randy Mosher’s superbly influential Radical Brewing I had been desperately seeking another book to fill the void it had left behind. I thought his next book, Mastering Homebrew, might have been the right fit, but it looked to be more of a catch-all homebrewers guide than a follow-up. Thankfully, I caught wind of Experimental Brewing from listening to a Beersmith podcast in which both authors featured - it sounded absolutely ideal! Forgoing the usual beginner-to-novice route most homebrew books take, this book delves into, as the title would suggest, the more experimental side of brewing, or ‘ways you can deviate from the norm’ as they put it. This is really a book aimed at people who can already brew, but are interested in ideas and techniques that may improve their skills. Obviously with the authors being American it’s all ounces this, gallons that, so you’ll need a conversion calculator to hand if you want to tackle any of the recipes. It’s written in a light hearted, easy-to-read manner, much like Radical Brewing.

Brew Britannia - Boak and Bailey
I’ve veered off my normal brewing reading track with this one, but the book's subject matter was too interesting to bypass, especially considering the authors. Written by the folk behind the popular and entertaining beer blog, Boak and Bailey, this book chronicles the rise and fall and rise again of the British beer industry. Unfortunately, and I know I’ll be in a minority here, I found the flow of the book a bit awkward, making it a real chore to digest at times. You’re bombarded with so many figures, dates and people that if you’re not concentrating you just end up losing the plot, and their overuse of apostrophes became ‘nearly’ as annoying that someone ‘doing’ actual ‘air’ quotations in ‘your’ face. It’s not all bad though, the latter chapters I found quite compelling, about the origins of today's superstar breweries, such as Thornbridge, Magic Rock and Brewdog.

Mikkeller’s Book of Beer - Mikkel Borg Bjergsø and Pernille Pang
I was totally unaware of this book’s existence until someone randomly tweeted about it. 30 seconds later I had slapped down some readies for pre-order. Currently ranked in the top three breweries in the world according to Ratebeer, a book about Mikkeller was always going to be an insta-buy. Unfortunately, it feels a bit light on content, seemingly packed with more images than words. There are some glistening gems of information in there such as the recipes for some of Mikkeller's famed brews, plus a bit of backstory of the once gypsy brewery. Make no mistake, it was a seriously decent read, I just wished there was more of it! Given their sibling rivalry, I wonder how long it’ll take until we see an Evil Twin book?

IPA - Mitch Steele
For the life of me I don’t know why I haven’t picked up this book earlier, I’m absolutely kicking myself! The labour of love that has gone into this book is apparent from the off. Mitch has travelled the globe, talking to anyone and everyone, reading through numerous archives, to glean as much info as possible on the title subject matter. The result is the most comprehensive book you’ll find on the history of India Pale Ales. Mitch is a true star in the brewing world and the work he does at Stone highlights he is a brewer to sit up and take note of, especially when it comes to the subject of IPAs. As always you’ll find a slew of recipes from renowned American breweries in the back, along with some more historical recipes reworked for modern brewing methods. A definite must-read.

Oxford Companion of Beer - Edited by Garrett Oliver
Edited by Garrett Oliver, brewmaster at Brooklyn Brewery, this encyclopedic tome covers almost everything you would want to know about beer and brewing. It’s not something you would typically read, but thumb through at random or pick up when required. Having not cross-checked each section, it’s difficult to rate it’s accuracy, but for the most part it seems pretty well researched. However, there are some reviews on Amazon that point out numerous inaccuracies which I’d imagine would be corrected in subsequent editions. It is certainly a great addition to my growing brew library and one I can imagine will come in useful at some point.

AG #3 - Lemon & Cardamom Hopfenweisse...

Unless you've been living under a rock for the past year you will probably be aware of new Manchester super brewery, Cloudwater. They've hit the ground running with some truly brilliant beers, but one in particular really stood out on the debut lineup for me, the Bergamot Hopfenweisse, a really fresh wheat beer with a healthy addition of Bergamot fruit. At a recent ‘Meet the Brewer’ event, Cloudwater’s co-founder and head brewer, James Campbell, revealed that the original plan was to use tangerines, but unable to source any in time for brewday, they decided to go with a seasonal citrus fruit, Bergamot. I was so taken with this beer I decided I would pencil a Hopfenweisse into my next available brewday.

Not being content with just throwing hops in to my brews, I thought I’d would follow suit and I too would include a fruit addition. I had mentally shelved an idea of adding lemon and cardamon to a future brew, it works so well in cakes, why not a beer? That day had just arrived! To accentuate the lemon I went with my old faithful hop, Sorachi Ace, with a simple 10 minute addition that worked so well with previous beers. To keep things even more simple, I went for a grist consisting of a straight 50-50 split of Wheat and Vienna, 3 kilograms each. So far it looked like this was going to be an easy brewday. To throw in with the hop addition I had the rind of three lemons, along with three whole cardamom pods.

When the brewday arrived I endeavoured not to fall for the same mistakes as my first two brews on this new kit (one day I shall stop referring to it as ‘new’). Last brewday I had learned that without some major tweaking, the strike temp calculators I was using weren't going to help me, so I had to rely on my gut instinct. I added two litres of boiling water to the mash tun to warm up the pot whilst I was getting the HTL up to temperature. Knowing how much my mash was out with the previous attempts, I took a punt and bumped the strike temp up to 80°C. I was aiming for a 66°C mash and that’s exactly what I got! Hurrah! Something went right!

Everything else went according to plan.

When it came to cooling, this was the first opportunity I’d had to test drive my new copper coil. Even though it has a large footprint, the coil still protruded out of the wort, which was expected as it was built for 50-60 litre batches. Even still, it managed to get 29 litres of wort down to pitchable temperatures within around 30 minutes which I was pleased with and it gave a good indication that it’ll handle a 60 litre batch with ease.

I pitched the yeast in at 20°C and set the controller to keep it there for a couple of days, then whacked it up to 23 for a few more days. Taste-wise, there was some definite lemon tones coming through with the Sorachi backing it up with bitterness, but the cardamom was severely lacking. Thankfully I had planned to ‘dry hop’ with yet more lemon rind and cardamom a few days before bottling, this certainly did the trick! I had worried that the lemon might come through a bit too sharp, like neat lemon juice (or a radler), but thankfully it comes through more akin to a lemon cake, which is kind of what I was looking for. As for the cardamom, it is definitely shining through now, but playing nicely in the same space as the citrus, giving it some extra dimension.

I was in two minds whether to enter this into the Brewdog Homebrew Competition as it was due to be bottled on the morning I was planning to submit my entries, meaning it would be carbing whilst in their possession. Risky I know, but I had nothing to lose, so I entered it and hoped for the best. Thankfully my punt paid off as it actually ended up winning the ‘Best Bitters’ category, which was basically for any beer between 3.4-5.4%! Result!

Grain Bill...
3 kg Vienna (50%)
3 kg Wheat (50%)

Hop Bill...
100 g Sorachi Ace Leaf (14.5% Alpha) 10 Minutes (Boil)

Misc Bill...
Rind of 3 lemons @ 10 Minutes (Boil)
3 Cardamom pods @ 10 Minutes (Boil)
Rind of 3 lemons @ 2 days (Dry hop)
4 Cardamom pods @ 2 days (Dry hop)

Single step infusion at 66°C for 90 Minutes
Fermented for 2 days at 20°C with White Labs Hefeweizen Ale Yeast (WPL300), then raised to 23°C for 3 days.

OG: 1.050
FG: 1.012
ABV: 5%

Monday, 8 June 2015

AG #2 - Melon Farmer Saison...

This brew came about in a random fashion; the name came first followed by the beer design. You see, my favorite film of all time is Alex Cox’s Repo Man and if any of were around in the days when we had only four television channels, you’ll recall that the BBC used to dub out any profanity from the films it broadcasted. As not to undermine the artistic integrity of the film, the Beeb would give the filmmakers the opportunity to dub it themselves. It was whilst editing Repo Man, Cox found that ‘Melon Farmer’ was a lip-sync fit for ‘Mutha Fucker’. Today, it’s the perfect name for a melon-ladened saison.

With what I thought was the arrival of summer (we had one warm week then it all went to pot) my mind turned once again to brewing a saison. I had brewed a cracking Sorachi saison the previous year and I was looking to brew something similarly tasty. Having only one brew fridge, the plan was always to have one FV temperature controlled and another left to nature’s ambient temperatures, which was obviously perfect for a saison.

With a name already in mind, the recipe was pretty much written; I’d stick with a Vienna malt base (as I always do), but ditch the Danstar Belle Saison yeast in favour of Whitelab’s WPL566 Belgian Saison II. Obviously there was going to be plenty of actual melon involved, but with a stroke of luck there is also a relatively new German hop called Hull Melon that has a “distinctive honeydew melon and strawberry aroma”. It was meant to be! It’s a mellow hop so I planned to bulk it out a with some Topaz. This I had absolutely shitloads of lying around after a bulk club purchase.

After what I thought was a disastrous first brew on the new kit (the resultant beer actually turned out very good!), I was hoping for a more trouble free brewday. Learning from my  previous mistake calculating strike temps, whilst I was waiting for the liquor to get up to temp, I emptied 9 litres of boiling water into the mash tun, just enough to cover the false bottom. I figured this would apply enough heat into the stainless steel vessel to help prevent it sapping so much heat out of my strike water. Feeling confident I went with my usual calculations, but unfortunately I was still quite a way out and ended up having to throw in more hot water to bring the temperature up to a respectable number. Grrr! Still, it’s only my second brew so I shouldn't expect it to be perfect just yet.

Assuming I was over the worse, I foolishly threw in the wrong first wort hops! Instead of throwing in a handful Topaz, instead I added a batch of my prized Hull Melon that had been already been measured for a late hop addition. Thankfully the Melon hop has a low alpha acid meaning it wouldn't add much bitterness so I added the Topaz too, as planned, and adjusted the recipe. I substituted the missing late addition with more Topaz, to balance out the recipe again. Next time I shall label my hops and put them in addition order, lesson learned.

Melon-wise, I went for honeydew and cantaloupe varieties which I chopped and placed in the freezer for a few days. Freezing breaks down the cell walls and extract as much flavour as possible. My intention was to add the melon during the last 10 minutes of the boil and then add the remainder once primary fermentation has completed. I defrosted the melon, blitzed in a blender and placed the pulp into a muslin sack. I kept the leftover juice in a jug, which surprisingly amounted to around 1 litre’s worth!

I was hoping to use “The Behemoth”, the name given to my new bespoke chiller. Unfortunately, I was still awaiting a couple of camlock fittings which meant my old chiller was jerry-rigged for one last run. Other than the aforementioned hiccups, the rest of the brewday went OK. I definitely had a better grip on the kit than the first time and was pleased with the progress. Fermentation finished without a hitch and a few days before bottling I threw in the remainder of the melon juice and pulp.

The end result is a juicy saison that borders on an IPA, just perfect for summer drinking! The saison elements are definitely a lot more subdued than my Sorachi Saison as the yeast haze clears down nicely with a bit of chilling. I’m pretty pleased with this one I've entered it into the Brewdog Homebrew comp… wish me luck!

Note: No brew day photos for this post as I was between phones.

Grain Bill...
5 kg Vienna (77%)
1.5 kg Maris Otter (23%)

Hop Bill...
15 g Topaz Leaf (16.3% Alpha) @ First wort
30 g Hull Melon Leaf (5.6% Alpha) @ First wort
30 g Hull Melon Leaf (5.6% Alpha) @ Hop stand
20 g Topaz  Leaf (16.3% Alpha) @ Hop stand
40 g Hull Melon Leaf (5.6% Alpha) @ Dry hop (2 days)

Misc Bill...
1 kg Melon + Juice @ 10 Minutes (Boil)
1 kg Melon + Juice @ 10 Minutes (Boil)

Single step infusion at 64°C for 90 Minutes
Fermented ambiently with White Labs Belgian Saison II Yeast (WPL566)

OG: 1.052
FG: 1.012
ABV: 5.2%

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

AG #1 - Paradise Porter...

During my time as a homebrewer my wife, Jo, has had no choice but to be interested in what I’m doing and not least what we drink. For a while now she’s expressed a desire for us to brew something together, specifically using coconut. So, after some discussion we decided to brew a porter, which history has shown carries such a flavour well. During the early months of the Macc Homebrew Club we got to sample a coconut porter, which although technically sound, highlighted the need to be quite conservative with the old coconut or else you end up with a something akin to Malibu! However, a year later that beer was absolutely spot on. The plan for our beer was to create a subtle toasted coconut flavour bouncing off the roasted grain, the backbone of a robust porter.

As usual, once I get an idea in my head it starts rattling around, gathering up random thoughts. There’s obviously some Caribbean/pirate connotations connected with a coconut beverage, so my thoughts turned to that other popular Caribbean tipple, rum. I wanted to get some rum tones in the beer, without resorting to just pouring in some neat spirit. My initial thought was to age it in an old rum barrel. Unfortunately, on such a small homebrew scale this isn't practical, so the next best thing was to get hold of some chips cut from a barrel that I could just throw into the fermenter. I’d noticed The Malt Miller had some in stock a while back, but alas they were sold out and unsure if they would ever get any more stock in. I could get some plain oak chips and then infuse them with rum myself, but after a bit of research people suggested keeping the additions separate as that way you can control how much flavour each imparts. Also, as mentioned, I didn't really want to use rum directly, so I decided on the next best thing - muscovado sugar. Not only would this give us that desired rummy flavour, but it would also bump up the fermentables, pushing the beer into the imperial ranges.

With the brewshed drawing to completion I started ordering the ingredients in preparation. I managed to find 150g bags of freshly chopped oak chips on eBay selling for just a few of our British pounds. My plan was to slowly toast them in the oven so that they became slightly charred around the edges, hoping it would impart roasty oak flavour. I also picked up a kilogram of coconut, which again, I planned on toasting slightly to eliminate most of the oil which would kill the beer’s head retention. Around this time I had read an interesting thread on Reddit about Maui Brewing Co’s Coconut Porter (regarded as one of the best in the world). The original poster, whilst on a tour of the brewery, asked at what point they throw in the coconut additions. Apparently, they add sacks full of the stuff into the mash, boil and secondary! You can’t really argue with their results, but that seemed a bit of overkill for what I was looking for. Instead, I would add it all in the mash, so that the grain bed could filter out some of the remaining oils, and then use a back-up vodka potion, that I've had infusing for months, to top up the flavour if I found it a little short when bottling.

Not only was this going to be my first forae into true all grain brewing, but it would the first time I get to use my new 100 litre kit in anger. Nothing like starting off simple eh? As I was without an immersion coil large enough to chill anything larger than 20ish litres, I decided I would at least start off with conservative batch.

As the beer was going to be edging into that imperial territory I needed a yeast that could cope with the higher alcohol levels. After some research I decided on White Labs’ Dry English Ale yeast (WPL007), with its high attenuation and flocculation, and judging by some of the comments on the White Labs’ website, was well suited to a big porter. Now all I needed to do was brew the damn thing!

When brewday eventually rolled around, with the strike temp and liquor volume calculated, I excitedly began the task of mashing in. It was only when I was finished I checked the temperature, only to realise I was around 7 degrees out! What I hadn't factored in was the temperature of the stainless steel mash tun! So, I whacked on the burner and dumped some more hot liquor in and with a bit of stirring it brought the temperature up to 64 degrees, which I was happy to stick with for the sake of a successful brew. I threw in the coconut last of all so that it rested on the top of the grain bed as I was worried it would get transferred through to the kettle. I covered the grain with a couple of sheets of tin foil and pierced it with my temperature probe. The insulated mash tun performed admirably and didn't drop a single degree during the 90 minute mash, which I was very pleased with.

With the mash complete I transferred the first runnings to the kettle, which was pretty clear, getting around 20 litres worth, thanks to the extra liquor I added to the mash. With my volumes all out of kilter I just threw in what looked to be an acceptable amount of sparge water and gave it a bit of a stir, which obviously disturbed the grain, making the second runnings a tad cloudy, but nothing a bit of recirculation didn’t solve. In the end I had 34 litres of wort in the kettle, more than I had originally predicted, but it actually turned out to be a stroke of luck. Another thing I hadn't considered was that the increased surface area these bigger vessels would give me an increased boil off. At 60 minutes I had lost 5 litres worth of wort to the sky, which was around double what I would have gotten with my old Brupak boiler. Another thing to bear in mind for next time.

With the boil done it was time to see how my old immersion coil would cope chilling a slightly larger volume. This was the stage I was most concerned about, but I needn't have worried. I was using the copper coil that had come with my old 11 litre stovetop BIAB kit. This had worked a treat when I upgraded to my Brupak boiler, hence why I kept this batch small. The only real issue I had was that the coil was tall and the hot wort was shallow, so I had to lay it on it’s side, making sure to keep the hose connections out of the drink. What surprised me was I managed to cool down 29 litres in around half the time it had taken me to chill 20 litres with the old boiler, which I can only attribute to the steel vessel also dissipating the heat. If that little coil could chill that fast then my new bespoke monster chiller will have no problems!

With the wort down to 20 degrees I started the transfer to the FV using my new mag drive pump, which made light work of the process. The gravity measured 1.063 in the end, which was a little shy of what was predicted, but taking into account of the on-the-fly volume adjustments I had made it was still showing some pretty respectable efficiency. Also as a first run
on new kit it was quite a successful brewday, despite the minor problems. I pitched my yeast starter and tucked up the FV safe and sound in my fermentation fridge, 12 hours later I was seeing some pretty healthy activity.

After about five days it had finished fermenting, eventually reaching 1.014, which makes it around 6.5%. Happy that it wasn’t going to drop any more I threw in the toasted oak chips. After just a week there was a notable change in the flavour, the harsh coffee tones were rounding out and a subtle vanilla flavour was starting to come through with a hint of molasses lurking in the background. Sadly, there was no sign of the coconut (or at least I wasn't getting it). I did briefly considering bottling as it was, but that would have deviated from the original goal so I toasted more coconut and added that in a few days before bottling.

This initially worked a treat; when bottling there was slight coconut on the nose and a hint in the mouth, which is what I was looking for. Instead of the coconut being a dominant flavour, it was playing in the same space as the malt, giving it a nutty character, which I hoped would be more pronounced once carbonated.

Due to the long conditioning phase it took a while to carb up, which worried me a little, but four weeks later it had a light fizz of a US porter. However, disappointingly the coconut tones have mellowed somewhat, but nevertheless it’s still a good solid porter that I shall be entering into Brewdog’s Northern Homebrew competition.

Grain Bill...
2.8 kg Maris Otter (43%)
1.6 kg Vienna (24%)
600 g Roasted Barley (9%)
250 g Chocolate Malt (4%)
125 g Brown Malt (2%)
125 g Munich (2%)
400 g Torrified Wheat (7%)

Hop Bill...
10 g Northern Brewer Leaf (9.6 % Alpha) @ First wort (0.5 g/L)
50 g Sorachi Leaf (11.8% Alpha) @ 10 Minutes (Boil) (2.4 g/L)

Misc Bill...
1 kg Muscovado sugar @ 10 Minutes (Boil)
1 kg Coconut @ (Mash)
100 g Coconut @ (Conditioning)
150 g Toast Oak Chips @ 2 Weeks (Conditioning)

Single step infusion at 64°C for 90 Minutes
Fermented at 20°C with White Labs Dry English Ale Yeast (WPL007)

OG: 1.063
FG: 1.014
ABV: 6.5%

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Link Roundup...

How 'Petrus Aged Pale' Come To Be - Belgian Smaak have an interesting article about how Brouwerij De Brabandere's Petrus Pale Ale came to be following a visit by the 'Beer Hunter' Michael Jackson.

Yeast Pitch Rates: Single Vial vs Yeast Starter - Performing experiments that you want to do but don't have the brew time, Brulosophy compare differences between pitching a fresh vial of yeast and a yeast starter.

Lactobacillus Starter Guide - Like your sours? Five Blades Brewing has posted a great guide on rustling up your own Lactobacillus starter.

An Introduction to Cask Conditioning Homebrew - The American Homebrewers Association have posted a guide on cask conditioning your own homebrew.

Under Pressure: The Impact of High(er) PSI Fermentations - Ever wondered if your beer would taste different if it were fermented under pressure? Well wonder no more, Brulosophy have it covered...

Monday, 20 April 2015

Link Roundup...

Relationship of ABV to Beer Scores - Scott Janish likes his infographics and charts. This week he looks how ABV influences the user ratings of various beer styles on Beeradvocate.

Lager Fermentation: Traditional Yeast vs Hybrid Yeast - Brulosophy looks at the differences between brewing a lager with a traditional lager yeast and a none-lager yeast.

A Guide to Saisons and Saison Yeasts - Drew Beechum, one of the authors of the excellent Experimental Homebrewing, has written a useful guide with some handy hints on brewing saisons, along with tasting notes of a handful of the most popular commercially available yeasts.

Intro to Sours and The Mad Fermentationist - In the latest Fermentation Nation podcast the guys speak with Michael Tonsmeire of The Mad Fermentationist fame.

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Competition Season...

Spring is almost upon us, so it's time for this years bout of homebrew competitions to start crawling out of the woodwork. Most competitions don't interest me, usually because you have to pay for the privilege of entering, there's a couple announced this year that might be worth a punt, just for laughs.

Firstly there's Brewdog's The Great North West Homebrew Off, a culmination of the efforts of various North West based homebrew clubs to create a bit of club rivalry. Thanks to the involvement of Brewdog there's now some professional brewer types on the judging panel, along with Jim of Beers Manchester. Judging will take place at Brewdog's Manchester bar on Saturday 13th of June.

Following on from the success of last years competition, BrewUK, Thornbridge and Waitrose are again hosting this years Great British Homebrew Challenge, which was won last year by Graham Nelson from our very own Macclesfield Homebrew Club with his superb Vienna IPA. Lots of glory to be had with this one.

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Link Roundup...

I've decided to drop the 'weekly' part of these posts, it seems that the internet doesn't churn out enough interesting articles to make it a weekly thing.

Beer Recipe Formulation for Prolonged Shelf Life - Port66 has written an in-depth article on possible ways to extend the shelf life of your beer using what is referred to as 'Hi-Dried' malt, basically any malt with colour. It's pretty science heavy, but it's well worth a read.

Water Chemistry PT.1: Mash Manipulation - Continuing to churn out science at a rate of knots, Brulosophy look into adjusting the water chemistry during the mashing process. We all know we should do this, but it's something that is given a lower priority compared to other brew processes. The results are pretty conclusive, we should all be doing this!

Old Garde - Mega brewery Cloudwater have updated their blog with a bit of background into their upcoming collab brew with Burning Sky.

Proper Beer Serving Temperatures - The American Homebrewers Association has posted some pointers on ideal serving temperatures for different beer styles.

Monday, 23 March 2015

Macc Homebrew Goes To Chorlton Brew Co...

It’s exciting times for beer at the moment, especially around the North West, with new breweries popping up at a rate of knots producing some truly superb beers. One such brewery to hit the scene recently is Chorlton Brewing Company. Having only been brewing since December last year, these upstarts really caught my eye as they predominately focus on brewing unfined sour beers, using long forgotten recipes with a hint of a modern twist...and I'm not talking a slice of lime here! One such beer is Dark Matter, a cascadian gose, which tastes like nothing I've ever tasted before, with the classic gose tartness playing off against the dark rich malty backbone of a BIPA. If you haven’t already tried it, definitely seek out a bottle!

I had previously tweeted the owner, Chorlton Mike (as named so not to get confused with Homebrew Mike), to persuade him to attend one of our future club meets. He kindly obliged and suggested that we were also welcome to visit the brewery at any time. I thought this would make for a good change of scenery so I planned to throw the idea on the table at the next meet and maybe arrange to pop in one weekend to help out. Before I’d even had chance to mention it at the February meet, Chorlton Mike had tweeted the unfortunate news that he was in hospital with a suspected broken leg, after a pallet of kegs fell on him! He was going to be out of action for weeks, which isn't a great position to be in with a fledgling brewery to run, so it was the perfect time to offer our assistance.

After a few DMs between some of the Macc Homebrew gang and Chorlton Mike, it was sorted - myself, Tom and Homebrew Mike had volunteered to help on the following Tuesday. This turned out to be the perfect day, a sour mash was planned for the Monday that would require finishing off the following day, and a clean IPA was also on the cards. It was going to be a seriously busy day!

In true new brewery fashion Chorlton Brew Co. is located in a railway arch, just outside of Piccadilly station, under the main line from London to Manchester, in an area that is becoming a hive of brewing activity. Within a 5 minute radius of Chorlton you’ll find Track, Alphabet, Privateer, Squawk and the new super brewery Cloud Water.

We had an idea of the general location of the brewery (there’s only so many archways), but with no signs to indicate which arch was home to Chorlton Brew Co, we did end up wandering around for a short time. We figured we were getting close when we spotted a barrel with an airlock seemingly abandoned on the street. As it was, it turned out to be home to a Brett starter they had been cultivating, segregated from the brewery so not to infect any of the clean beers. We decided to take a punt and open the door in the archway, we were greeted by the smiling faces of Chorlton Mike and his assistant Alexx.

After the introductions the day couldn't have got off to a better start, with the offer of a bacon butty and a sample of Woodruff Berliner Weisse to wash it down. We’re all brewers, so will quite happily work for food and beer. The previous days sour wort was not quite sour enough, needing a couple more hours for the microbes to work their magic. So most of our morning comprised of cleaning the place up and prepping for the next brew, a Vienna heavy IPA, hopped with Nugget and Simcoe, weighing it at 6.4%. This beer was ticking all the right boxes for me!

With one and a half brews on the go, it was a bit of a juggling act. We shifted one brew from one vessel to make room for another, all without touching the HLT which was all set and ready to go for sparging. For the Chorlton guys it's still an evolving process, especially considering the average brew length for a sour being two days.

After mashing in the IPA, there was plenty of free time whilst we waited around for starches to convert and boils to boil. This gave the perfect opportunity to partake in a few samples and chat about stuff and nonsense - future plans for the brewery, beer ideas and the annoyance of label collectors. The beer was flowing (into our mouths), however, having both the excellent Dark Matter and Calibration Sour on tap, this maybe was a daft idea with such high volumes of hot and caustic liquids around. We weren't screaming health and safety, it was a measured risk worth taking!

With yet more waiting around for things to happen, we made ourselves useful and cracked on with some labelling and boxing up of the Berliner Weisse for you lucky people. For myself the day ended here, with the 6:35pm train back to Macclesfield, leaving Tom and Homebrew Mike to continue into the night. It was only the next day, when I scanned through Twitter, that I realised just how long a brew day it had been, with the yeast being pitched at 1:30am due to pump failures!

These guys still have a way to go until they get on some solid footing, but the main thing is, they're out of the traps brewing some fantastic beers that people appear to be enjoying, so things can only get bigger and better. I'm seriously looking forward to what they have in store for us in the future.

Monday, 2 March 2015

Weekly Link Roundup...

Whole Leaf vs Pellet Hops - Part 1: Dry Hop - As the title suggests, the latest Brulosophy's series of experiments looks into the differences of dry hopping with whole leaf and pellets.

2014 Hop Harvest Data - Scott Janish has put together a handy interactive hop data chart that breaks down the oil and acid components of each hop variety.

Tips for Brewing Big Beers - If you like your beers of imperial strength then Homebrew Talk have put together a useful article of tips on brewing big beers.

Legends in Brewing: Charlie Papazian - Homebrew Talk have had a chat with homebrew legend Charlie Papazian about his life as a homebrewer.

Michael Tonsmeire: The Mad Fermentationist - The American Homebrewers Association talk with Michael Tonsmeire about homebrewing and his obsession with sour beers, which is the subject of his recently released book American Sour Beers.

Monday, 23 February 2015

Weekly Link Roundup...

Whirlpool Hopping - 80°C vs 100°C - It's widely regarded that if you want extract as much aroma and flavour out of your hops you would whirlpool at 80°C, which is just below the threshold in which the hop oil would boil off. The mythbusters at Port66 wanted to put this too the test, whirling pooling batches at both 80°C and 100°C, with some pretty surprising results.

The Fine Art of Matching Beer with Bar Snacks - Ever wonder what beer to pair with snacks such as Twiglets or Pickled Onion Monster Munch? Wonder no more, The Telegraph have done the hard work...

What is it That Ferments a Lambic? - Larsblog looks at a new study into what actually happens when brewing a Lambic. The short answer - A LOT! It's not as science heavy as you'd think, so don't be put off reading it!

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

White Labs Coming to Europe...

In a surprise announcement yesterday the yeast harvesting masters at White Labs announced plans to open a European office in Copenhagen, Denmark. Even more surprising (and exciting) is they've teamed up with superstar brewers, Mikkeller and 3 Floyds Brewing Co., occupying a space in their upcoming joint brewpub venture Warpigs. This is certainly good news for European brewers, with increased distribution and even some small scale production, which as a homebrewers we'll unlikely benefit from, but the prospect of getting my mitts on some of their PurePitch packaged yeast with minimal supply chains is great news!

Monday, 16 February 2015

Weekly Link Roundup...

With there being so many good beer and homebrewing blogs out there I've decided to start doing an occasional roundup of some of the more interesting blog posts that have caught my eye throughout the last week or so.

Hops and Flucloxacillin - Rob Lovatt of Thornbridge talks about hop desensitisation and recalibrating your palate to enjoy some of the less hoppy beer styles that are out there.

NEW ENTRANT: Cloudwater Brew Co - The Brewery Manual have a chat with former Marble brewer James Campbell's about his new venture - Cloudwater Brew Co., a new 24 hectolitre brewery launching soon in Manchester.

Yeast, Brewing Myths and the Ideal House Strain - James Kemp, experienced brewer of the popular homebrewing blog Port 66 discusses British beer styles, which a lot of British brewers have fallen out of love with, and reclaiming the yeast strains behind them.

You Steam, I Steam, We All Steam For... - Brulosophy's latest experiment pits two steam beer yeast strains from Whitelabs and Wyeast, both of which are purported to have come from the same source. The results aren't that surprising, but it's interesting nevertheless.

Take it to the Bridge - Phil of Beersay stops buy the Thornbridge mothership to pick up some Jaipur X and of course have a nosey around the brewery.

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Need More Input Part 3...

Brewing Up a Business - Sam Calagione
Knowing the direction that I want to take this beer brewing hobby of mine the wife bought me this book to spur me on. If you don’t already know, Sam Calagione is the founder of famed US brewery Dogfish Head, and despite being obviously US-centric, a lot of what Sam talks about is universal. He doesn’t go in-depth into the ins-and-outs of running a brewing business, which wouldn’t be applicable to anyone outside of the state of Delaware, but instead talks about the culture and ethos behind the business, along with it’s history, which I found to be very inspirational. There were many standout moments, such as the origin of the famed 60 Minute IPA and invention of “Randall The Enamel Animal” (something I hadn’t realised was credited to Dogfish Head!). There were certain chapters I did skim read, on subjects that weren’t really applicable to myself, such as managing staff, but all-in-all it was an excellent read.

Yeast: The Practical Guide to Beer Fermentation - Chris White and Jamil Zainasheff
Written by the head honcho of Whitelabs (along with famed homebrewer Jamil Zainasheff) there was no shadow of doubt that this was going to be the defacto bible on the subject of yeast. If you want to be serious about brewing beer this book is a must read and gives invaluable advice on the matter of yeast wrangling. There are some science heavy sections that are more geared towards breweries that can afford a dedicated lab area, but I’d like to think that one day I can make use of that knowledge. I did notice that some of the information contradicted what is written on a vial of Whitelabs yeast, such as pitchable amounts and ideal temperatures, but these things aren’t set in stone so I guess it’s up to the brewer how they want to handle things. I had always tried to avoid messing too much with yeast as it seemed like something more akin to witchcraft, but after reading this there was no fear and I’m now the proud owner of a conical flask and knock out my own yeast starters with confidence. Out of all the books out there on the subject of brewing this is without a doubt in the top 3 you should read,

American Sour Beers - Michael Tonsmeire
I’ve always had a thing for sour beers but I had never considered brewing one as it all seemed a bit too complicated, but this book has done a great job of dispelling the myths surround this dark art. Written by Michael Tonsmeire, author of The Mad Fermentationist blog, you know the subject is in good hands and he certainly does a great job of talking you through the various methods of souring a beer. In fact, before he gets into the nitty gritty of things he advises to start a sour brew as you read through the book so that you can follow the beers journey first hand. Along with the methods employed, he also talks about the origin of sour beers in Europe before turning his attention to the title subject matter - American sour beers and the breweries that produce them, such as Lost Abbey and Russian River. Each brewery has their own methods and this book does a sterling job at conveying them through a series of flow charts, making it a piece of cake to follow. The latter part of the book has some of Michael’s own tried and tested recipes which make for a good starting point for anyone wanting to try their hand. If you have a taste for the sours then you really can’t afford to miss out on this super read, even if you don’t plan on brewing one! For me personally, this is right up there with ‘Yeast’ for importance of information.

Brew Like a Monk - Stan Hieronymus
This book is getting a little long in the tooth now, but the information contained within is all still very relevant. Despite what the title suggests it’s more of a history lesson on the beers and breweries of Belgium, than it is a guide to brewing beers. The recipes for all of these famed beers are closely guarded secrets so what you’ll find instead are some best guess approximations, but even then you’ll probably struggle to replicate some of the complicated brewing methods. Thankfully the last part of the book has recipes of Belgian style ales from brewers at various well known US breweries that are a little easier to follow. You probably won’t end up brewing like a monk, but it is still an excellent read and gives a great insight into some of the inner workings of famous Belgian breweries.

Thursday, 12 February 2015

Macc Homebrew Featured...

After Tom's recent article on American Homebrewers Association on building your own DIY hopback, it's now Macclesfield Homebrew Clubs turn in the spotlight in their regular Club of the Week feature! It gives a good insight on the club, what we're about and when we meet, so if you're interested in attending give it a read.

We've also now got our own website at, which will let you know when our next meet is. Come on down!

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Evolution of a Brewshed...

They say a picture speaks a thousand words, which is good for me as it means I don't have to write a lengthy article about the build of my brewshed. Instead, feast your peepers on these photos as my very own brewery starts to take shape.

Friday, 16 January 2015

Baby Got (Hop)Back...

Tom from our very own homebrew club has written a great piece for the American Homebrew Association's 'Pimp My System' section about how to construct your very own hop back. It's definitely a nifty piece of kit and a helluva lot cheaper than a Blichmann HopRocket! Go check it out...

Monday, 12 January 2015

Happy Brew Year 2014...

To say the last year was a bit of a whirlwind would be a bit of understatement, I can't believe I'm writing this article already! I will run through my year as it happened, so let me begin…

I kicked off 2014 brewing with a modest 11 litre stove-top BIAB kit, and judging by the feedback I was getting from the homebrew club, I was producing some half decent beers. This gave me the confidence to start sending out a few of my beers to respected homebrewers, bloggers and makers and suppliers of fine beers. I honestly couldn't have be more pleased with the comments I received on Twitter and Untappd (us brewers like external validation), not to mention the bottles of other folk's homebrew I got in return! Here’s just a few of the kind comments:

Guatemalan Insanity Stout...
“This is super brewing that’s a match for many professional breweries.” Simon - CAMRGB

“This is a beautiful beer. Enjoying every sip. If you’re not already, you should be delighted with this.” Dave Bishop @broadfordbrewer

“A damn fine beer. Would willingly pay good hard cash for this. Just hope it doesn’t keep me awake!” Jim - BeersManchester

Sorachi Saison...
“All in, this is a beer that I would happily buy, and if it was on the bar where I work, it would probably be my beer of the night.” Al Wall - Hopsinjoor's Brewing Spot

Black Forest Stout…
“Commercial quality. Flavours hang together so very well. Dark fruits and choc on aroma carry right through it. Top home brewing.” Andy Parker @tabamatu

Our local band of rag-tag homebrewers from the homebrew club got the chance to experience brewing a commercial beer at Red Willow for the Barnaby Festival here in Macclesfield. Fittingly named ‘Trouble at Mill’ for the festival, it became the latest in Red Willow’s Faithless series for the rest of the world and it received some decent ratings on Untapped. It was a hard days work, but a lot of fun and a great learning experience.

I mentioned in my wrap up article of last year that one of my self imposed goals for 2014 was to enter my beers into competition. As a starter, to ease myself in, I ended up entering a couple of beers into the Thornbridge/Waitrose homebrew competition. I wasn't completely happy with the beers I entered, so it came as no surprise that I didn't win. The silver lining was that Graham Nelson (aka @arrowsails) from our very own homebrew club did win, with his superb Vienna IPA. Further more he has now turned pro, after joining the team at Red Willow. I didn't enter any more competitions after that, realising I could just take my wares to the homebrew club and get honest feedback from my brewing peers.

During the glorious summer, myself and the wife went on a camping trip around the South of Britain that turned into a bit of a magical beer tour. We visited some great brewpubs producing some excellent beers and got the chance drop in on Martin Warren of Poppyland Brewery in Cromer, who I feel is making some of the most interesting beers in the UK right now. If there is one thing this trip highlighted is that if I ever turned professional with this brewing malarkey that I would definitely consider the brewpub route. We also got the experience the majesty that is Beers of Europe - a glorious sight to behold! The choice was mind blowing and we did well not to come away with at least a few hundred quids worth of quality beer!

Having had to enjoy last years IMBC by proxy, via the tweets of various revellers, I promised myself I was not going to miss this year’s shindig at any cost! As soon as the tickets went on sale I was in like Flynn and bagged a ticket for the Saturday afternoon session. The event was absolutely superb and deserving of all the praise that has been lavished on it It is, without a doubt one of the premier beer festivals in the UK, if not the whole of Europe! In hindsight my only regret was not getting a full fat ticket for the whole weekend.

Macclesfield’s homebrew club reached it's first birthday in October! We’re still a bit of disorganised bunch, but have a great thing going on and the four founding members are still very much in attendance. Being so close to lots of quality breweries we've welcomed special guests from Thornbridge, Buxton, Cheshire Brewhouse and Runaway, with hopefully more planned for the new year. If there’s one thing every homebrewer needs, it’s to get their arses down to a local homebrew club, and if there isn't one, start it! You can learn so much bouncing off other like-minded brewers. If you’re local give us a shout and come on down!

Despite not entering another competition per se, my recent Lime Pickle IPA recipe did actually win something, a signed copy of Garrett Oliver’s book - Brewmaster’s Table, which judged by the man himself no less! I've yet to receive said book, but that doesn't bother me, it was credit from a well respected brewer that was the real prize. The final beer didn't turn out quite as I had hoped (I was a little conservative with the lime), but nevertheless it turned out to be a pretty nice beer. Garrett, if you're reading, get in touch and I’ll send you a bottle! Be quick, my supply is dwindling fast!

Early on in the year I was invited to be a guest in a homebrew special of the Beer O'Clock Show with a re-brew of my first all-grain recipe, the Black Forest Stout that I originally sent to Beer O’Clock Steve a year ago. Talking and drinking alongside fellow homebrewers Ady and Carl, it was seriously good fun and it was a real honour to participate. The guys liked the stout and it was good to get comments from someone who had tried the original version. I've already began thinking about how to improve it (more body!).

So what else has occurred this year? Well, the most notable one is I've gone from the aforementioned 11 litre stove-top BIAB kit, to a 29 litre Brupak boiler, then to constructing a dedicated brew shed to house a shiny new 100 litre system, built by Powell Brewing. Looking back, I can’t believe how quickly I have progressed in the space of a year, from getting my head around the basics of all-grain brewing, to well, erm, knowing a tad more than the basics and soon-to-be brewing on some seriously hefty kit! I've gone from seeking advice on everything to now imparting some advice myself. There’s always going to be stuff to learn, but I'm always in search of more input and generally have a couple of brew books on the go.

Hopefully this year will be just as action packed as the last. January see me tied up finalising the brewshed and finishing off the fixtures and fittings. The following few months I'll be getting used to the new brew system and honing my skills further. There will no doubt be lots of room for tweaking and improvement and I’ll probably look at some kind of automation (BrewPi is looking pretty good at the moment). I have plans afoot that I hope will come to fruition, but for now I’ll just keep on brewing the brews and see what surprises the year holds. *holds glass aloft* Cheers!

Thursday, 1 January 2015

BIAB #13 - Dang!!! Lime Pickle IPA...

A few months back James Kemp, experienced brewer and blogger at Port66, tweeted a heads up to a video tutorial by Brooklyn head brewer Garrett Oliver. The basic premise of the 40 minute video was to create a beer recipe inspired by a particular food, with his example being a Mexican mole sauce, taking the prominent characteristics of a food and applying that to a beer. It was an interesting challenge so I signed up and created a project.

The decision as to which food to emulate was an easy one as I have had an idea in mind for a while. During the glorious summer Red Willow released a one off beer by the name of Shamefull (sic), a play on their excellent IPA Shameless, that was brewed with pineapple and chili. Both the fruit and the chili were subtly done and it turned out to be a superbly refreshing drop. This got me thinking about brewing with chili, especially in pale beer. A beer the immediately sprung to mind was Sirencraft/Mikeller/Hill Farmstead’s superb DIPA - Limoncello, not quite as subtle as Shamefull, but I wondered what it would it be like with just a hint of chili? The next step in my wandering mind was an obvious one, why not try and brew a beer with the characteristics of lime pickle - tart lime, coriander and hint of chili? The idea was jotted down in my moleskine book of beery brain farts to revisit another day - that day had arrived!

As half of the recipe was already set, it was just a case of filling in the blanks. For the base malt I went with my old favourite of Vienna, thinking that the bronzed colour will more closely resemble it’s foody inspiration (plus I had a load of that in stock!). For the hops I needed something that would compliment the citrus notes of the lime and coriander seed, what better hop to use than Citra! This recipe was writing itself!

For the yeast I was originally going to use one of Whitelab’s seasonal yeasts, Old Sonoma, which had been sat in the fridge for a few months waiting for an opportunity to be used. By the time I had a suitable brew slot, it was around 3 months past it’s best, so I figured it would just need a couple of step up starters to revitalise it. I went through the usual starter process, pitched the after 24 hours I was seeing no activity at all, but after a quick scan of the internet it turns out that not all yeasts will form a krausen, but to be sure I grabbed a sample to test the gravity. It had not budged! With brewday looming I didn't have time to persevere with it, so down the drain it went. I then remembered I had some half-used packets of US-05 that I had frozen, in the hope it would preserve them. I let them come up to room temperature, threw them in some cooled boiled water to rehydrate and then into the wort they went. Again after 24 hours there was no action! Thankfully I had two other vials in the fridge that were actually in date, a Whitelab’s Belgian saison and Yeast Bay’s Funktown, a blend of their own Vermont ale yeast with a dash of Brett. The latter seemed the best match for a lime pickle beer, so I let it get up to room temperature and dumped it in the FV. This stuff went off like the clappers, after around 6 hours it had a healthy krausen. Beer saved! I shall definitely endeavour to plan my yeast usage a bit better in the future.

After a week in the FV things were ticking along nicely and it was close to reaching terminal gravity. The flavours were really starting to shine through too, with the Citra really coming to the forefront with the lime backing it up, it was starting to taste like a great beer! The best news is that even before this had even been brewed it was chosen by Garrett Oliver as one of his fave projects on Skillshare and bagged me a signed copy of his Brewmaster’s Table book! Result!

As it had been fermenting away at 22 degrees for a week, keeping the Brett roused, it was still quite murky, if only I had some way of cold crashing it without a fridge! Thankfully I had a big wooden fridge built out the back of the house, we call it the brewshed, so I switched off the temp controller and transferred the FV into the chilly surrounds of the shed. The day before bottling I moved it back into the house to bring it back up to room temperature ready for priming.

The end result didn't quite turn out how I had planned, with the big lime tartness I had envisioned was somewhat lacking, but overall it turned out to be a tasty, refreshing beer with just a hint of chili in the background to keep things interesting. Despite the screwed up faces of disgust at the mere thought of a lime pickle inspired beer, the people who dared to try it so far have really enjoyed it. I shall also be holding back a bottle to see how the Brett develops over time.

Grain Bill...
5 kg Vienna (93%)
400 g Torrified Wheat (7%)

Hop Bill...
75 g Citra Leaf (11.1% Alpha) @ 10 Minutes (Boil) (3.6 g/L)
75 g Citra Leaf (11.1% Alpha) @ 0 Minutes (Boil) (3.6 g/L)
50 g Sorachi Leaf (11.8% Alpha) @ 0 Days (Dry Hop) (2.4 g/L)

Misc Bill...
20 g Coriander Seed @ 10 Minutes (Boil)
50 g Lime Peel @ 10 Minutes (Boil)
5 g Chili Pepper @ 0 Days (Day before bottling)

Single step Infusion at 67°C for 90 Minutes (dropping to 65°C)
Fermented at 22°C with Yeast Bay - Funktown Pale Ale

OG: 1.052
FG: 1.014
ABV: 5.2%

It turns out there was a bit of a competition running on Skillshare where Garrett Oliver would choose his top 4 projects. Good news, my Lime Pickle was one of them! The prize was originally a signed copy of his book - The Brewmaster's Table, however after 5 months it hadn't arrived. I wasn't too fussed, the endorsement by such a respected brewer was enough for me, However, last week I received an unexpected FedEx package from New York! Inside was a copy of The Oxford Companion to Beer, a monster of a book that covers pretty much everything you'd want to know about beer and brewing and it was signed by the man himself as promised! So now I had the glory and a sweet prize.