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.