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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%