It’s all Grandad’s Fault

I’ve not brewed anything recently and don’t have plans to brew anything until March so I thought I’d write a bit about how I got into homebrewing and, well, beer in general.

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I started homebrewing about 6 years ago. It’s all my Grandad’s fault.  My Grandad was a massive influence on me. He was a very keen gardener and champion flower and veg grower. He won so many awards that when he finally retired everyone breathed a sigh of relief that they would actually stand a chance of winning for once. I have very fond memories of being on his allotment harvesting runner beans, traipsing in between the massive sweetcorn plants and watching my dad rotavate a plot next door from atop a Atlantic Giant pumpkin my Grandad was growing for a competition. My Grandad also made his own wine.  He’d make wine out of anything, mainly stuff he grew like parsnips, carrots and damsons. He used to have the demi-johns behind his sofa where your conversations with him would be interrupted  by the bloop of the bubbles in the airlocks. Sadly one winter he broke his hip when he slipped on some ice in his greenhouse. My grandparents had to move to a smaller apartment that had no stairs and he suddenly had nowhere to put his wine making equipment so he offered it to me.

At this time I wasn’t a massive drinker, especially of wine. So I can’t quite remember if it was my Dad that mentioned it but someone said “why don’t you brew those Belgian beers you like?” and thus the homebrewing of beer began.

But let’s rewind a bit and get into how my love of Belgian beers happened. I never used to drink at all, there are a few reasons for this. One being I had many experiences growing up of various family members being generally unpleasant when drunk to put it politely and, well I had no desire to be that way. The second reason is that I had an eating disorder for a huge chunk of my young life and empty calories from booze were definitely not on my agenda. I actually started drinking when I was 23. I was oddly egged on by my former boss who was a strict teetotal Christian. We were in Mint Leaf just off Haymarket and he insisted I had a cocktail. I had tried the odd mouthful of things before that and I knew I liked amaretto (all the women on my dad’s side of the family love amaretto, it’s the law) so I went for a Godfather which was 1 part amaretto, 1 part scotch and it was bloody lovely.  Still at this point I didn’t drink beer, I had tried mouthfuls of lager but I hated it and I still to this day I do not like lager. At the time lager was pretty much all you could get on a night out in central London so I stuck to whiskey or my new found love, gin. I could stretch to a Guinness but would usually only suffer half a pint.

It all changed when I went on a booze cruise with my parents. I’m not sure if there was a change in the law or something but we had to go to Belgium to get cigarettes for people instead of picking everything up in France. We were in a little Belgian café when my dad suggested I try some of his Duvel. BAM, mind blown. I hotfooted it to the hypermarket and bought a lot of Belgian beer to take home. This also coincided with me living with my landlady in Ladywell who knew the owner at the time of De Hems, which was also conveniently close to my workplace. I used to visit De Hems a lot and drink Duvel and Vedett. I used to study for a Geoscience degree through the OU and would reward myself with a Duvel every time I’d complete an assignment.  To this day Duvel still has a special place in my heart.  This then snowballed a few years later into me researching into more Belgian styles and discovering saisons which were very hard to come by. It’s at this point my Dad, I think, suggested I brew my own versions and so I did.

My first brew was one of those Woodford Wherry kits which I grew very bored of incredibly quickly. I wanted the freedom to put together my own recipe from scratch. I’m an avid baker and have always tweaked recipes to make them my own and wanted to do the same with the beer I brewed (I should at this point give a shout out to my Nan who is a brilliant baker and makes my Dad a cake every week).  I’ve not really brewed the usual stuff people brew at first, I think I’ve only ever brewed one IPA and one Black IPA, I’ve never really been a hophead. After a lot of reading and research I mainly settled on brewing saisons and they are still my favourite style to brew to this day. I have gotten into mixed ferm brewing the last few years and have a lot of plans this year to brew saisons and mixed ferm beers with the produce I have grown or foraged for in my local area just like my Grandad did with his wine. Locally I have found figs, pears, crab apples, bullaces, rosehips, hawthorns, acorns, cherries, chestnuts, walnuts and blackberries. I am growing plums, rhubarb, raspberries, fennel, strawberries and various herbs in my garden.

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My Grandad passed away a few years ago now but I still think about him whenever I pick up his trusty old fermenting bucket. Although I don’t use it to ferment in (and I’m pretty sure my Grandad didn’t either) it has many uses. It’s the bucket I put my malt basket in once the mash is finished and it’s the bucket that collects any drips I make when I’m bottling.

So cheers Grandad, you’ve influenced me to start a hobby that has grown a bit out of control but has bought me so much joy and cheers Dad for introducing me to Duvel (even though you mainly only drink Stella or Fosters top).

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The Pretend Prince

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I had a day off this week so got my friend Si over to brew a clone of one of his favourite beers, Jester King’s Le Petit Prince.

Thankfully Jester King have put the basic recipe up on their website so I didn’t have to think too much about it.  I drank a bottle a few weeks before and grew the dregs up for a starter.

Recipe

25% Wheat
75% Pilsner
11 IBUs Goldings at 60 mins
3 IBUs Fuggles at 10 mins

I mashed in low at 63oC. OG should be between 1.021-1.024 , I forgot to do a gravity reading but I’m confident we got within that range.  Beersmith predicted 1.023 and that’s usually accurate to what I end up with.  After 2 days the fermentation has started, very exciting about producing my first low ABV mixed ferm beer.

Updates

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I added 3kg of apricots (1kg puree, 2kg whole) to All the Bretts last week. They sank to the bottle but a week later started to rise like a lava lamp.  It now has a pretty gnarly pellicle.

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I entered my first homebrew competition recently which also happened to be the first Brew Con in the UK. I came 2nd in my category with Saisons in the Abyss which I was over the moon about. Big thanks to Simon and everyone else that was involved in organising the event, I had a great time and will be back next year, if any of my beers are ready, that is!

I’ve made a small experimental batch of mead with Greek thyme honey and bruxellensis. No idea how that is going to turn out, just going to leave it for a loooooong time and wait.

JK at Marble has been lovely and sent me some pedio from a 3 Fonteinen bottle to play with. Not decided what to do with it yet.  It’s so gunky and weird, I did taste it and I won’t be tasting pedio again!

Spontanpeckham is still fermenting away. I am going to do a batch this year and next year and blend them.

I’ve done a lot of scouting in my local area for fruits I can forage and now have some plans for later next year which include a crab apple beer (I was lucky to taste The Kernel’s from the tank recently and it’s divine). It’s pretty amazing the produce you can find on your doorstep in London.

Funky Rye

 

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Anspach and Hobday kindly gave me a sample of their Funky yeast strain. This is a strain their brewer, Dylan, has built up using various bottle dregs. I’m not sure what is in there but I’ve had a few of their beers fermented with it and they are always outstanding. I’ve been building up a starter for a while, it smells incredible.  Lots of citrus and pineapple.

I decided to use it in a dark rye beer as they have only used it in pale beers so far. I used the same grain bill as for the Old Fashioned inspired rye beer I made except I added acidulated malt. I also dialed down the IBUs to just 13.

Grain bill

2kg pale malt
600g Rye malt
160g Carared
140g Acid malt
110g melanoidin malt
110g Caramalt
100g Roasted Rye
100g Rice hulls

I mashed at 68 degrees and mashed out at 72. Chilled to 23 degrees and pitched the yeast. Will update with various pellicle porn pics I’m sure.

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Updates!

I’ve been up to a few things since I brewed SpontanPeckham so thought I’d do a quick recap of it all.

All the Bretts

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I got hold of Omega Yeasts All the Bretts.  I picked it up mainly because I’d heard of Omega through The Sour Hour. Have pitched it into a pale with the following grain bill:

3kg Pilsner
1kg Wheat
490g Munich
350g Oats
350g Carapils
215g Acidulated

I added the oats for mouthfeel and the acidulated malt to encourage the brett to produce ethyl lactate. I’m planning to split this batch and add half to apricots and half to cherries.

Boadicea hopped Berliner

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My homebrew club gave us the challenge of making a beer with British hops. Inspired by Chorlton’s Goldings Sour I decided to make a Berliner Weiss with Boadicea hops.  I went with the kettle sour method and ran into a myriad of issues.  Firstly, the lactobacillus strain I had was a blend with a kolsch yeast so unsuitable for kettle souring as I would be leaving it at 45 degrees for 3 days.  I hot footed it to Holland & Barratt and picked up some probiotics containing lacto strains. I chilled my wort to 45 degrees, pitched the contents of 30 capsules, covered the top of the wort with cling film and gave it a blast of co2 to form a layer above so no oxygen could get in.  I left this for 3 days.  During this period I discovered my PH meter didn’t work so had to rely on strips and taste.  I think it got to 3.4, it tasted pleasing, no off flavours, and then I boiled, chilled and added kolsch yeast.

After the kolsch yeast had finished fermenting I went to dry hop half and put the other half on mango puree. A few days later I went to bottle the dry hopped half. It was at this point I discovered the yeast had produced a massive amount of ethyl acetate due to the mad heat wave that occurred that week (my flat got up to 34 degrees). I dumped that half and looked at the mango batch and found a pellicle had started to form on top.  I’d totally forgotten that the demi-john I had used had previously contained the Chorlton HS1 brett strain which appears to be indestructible. Undeterred I’ve decided to let it ride!

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I was planning to brew a beer for the Waitrose/Thornbridge competition that week but abandoned due to the heat, I would have been using the same Kolsch yeast. Ah well, next year!

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I took a gravity reading today, it is down to 1.010, going to see if it can get to zero. It smells horrendous. I’m not hopeful it’ll be drinkable but it’s a nice experiment anyway.

Mixed ferm Belgian Strong

I took gravity readings and tastings for this today.  All four demi johns are down to zero and taste quite similar. I was worried for one of them as it was very vinegary at the start but seems to have cleared up. I blended them together and have added bourbon oak. It has a deep raisin note to it followed by sourness. It reminds me a bit of a Flemish red, I’m very pleased. Hoping to bottle this soon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spontanpeckham

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I decided that over the Easter bank holiday weekend I would try to attempt a spontaneously fermented beer. The temperatures were cool, the cherry blossom was just starting to shed its pink blanket over my garden and I had a four day weekend to play with.

I went with a simple 30% wheat to 70% pilsner malt bill but then decided to add in (around 3%) acidulated malt to try to deter mould and e-coli growth. I got hold of some 2011 Hallertau hops, I added around 60g of these to the boil at 60 mins.  These stank so bad, they were delivered to work and my desk, a week on, still smells faintly of hamster cage.  I would have liked to have gone with the romanticism and tradition of a turbid mash but I do not have the time, patience of equipment quite frankly.  I went instead with a 90 minute mash at 69oC and a 2 hour boil.  I started quite late in the day in order to leave my wort to cool overnight.

I transferred my wort into two 5 litre stainless steel cooking pots and tied cheesecloth over the top to stop any insects from getting in.  I left these under the trees in my garden overnight (1 cherry blossom and 2 sycamores). The colour in the morning was alarming, it’s amazing what oxidation can do.  It’s now bright orange.

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I moved the wort to two glass demi-johns and left them.  Well, when I say I left them, I actually checked them an unnecessary amount of times for signs of fermentation.  A watched demi-john never ferments.

I did the brew on Monday and it wasn’t until Friday morning that there were visible bubbles on the surface.  The water in the airlock had started to move a bit on Wednesday but Friday was when I could actually see the wort change.  It fascinates me how quickly this change happens. In the space of 2 hours the whole surface was covered in a white blanket of bubbles. Today is Monday and the bubbles are just started to sink, what will happen next?

I’m going to leave this for at least a year.  I’ll check on it from time to time to see if it needs ditching, I’m not expecting much, it’s more just for my own interest of witnessing a spontaneous fermentation in action.

UPDATE

A week after writing this blog stuff started to happen in the demi-john, a pellicle started to form and it is now full of massive bubbles.

Saison Apothicaire

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Cast your mind back many months, you may remember I got a 10l herb liqueur barrel.  Well, I’ve finally used the damn thing.

It’s been sitting in my kitchen with holding solution inside it just waiting for some beer. Holding solution by the way is 1.5tsp potassium metabisulfite and 1/2 tsp citric acid per gallon.  I think a lot of people don’t realise how important it is to not let your barrel get dry or to not leave it sitting around acquiring mould. You should change the holding solution every few months if not in use.

I’m a huge fan of brewing saisons.  It is probably the style I have brewed the most.  I wanted to run a saison through the barrel for the first fill.  I have some nelson hops in the freezer and feel they may marry well with the herbaceous flavours in the barrel along with the earthy, spicy characteristics of the saison yeast (in this case Belgian Saison I).

20 litre batch

5,000g Pilsner
230g Wheat
230g Vienna
230g Aromatic
115g Munich
20g Nelson 15 mins
20g Nelson 10 mins

OG for this was 1.060 and it finished up at 1.010

This yeast, as always, got down to 1.020 then did nothing for a week until one day I was sat eating my breakfast and the airlock suddenly blew off and whacked me on the head. Hooray it had started again, a week later it was ready.  I transferred 10 litres to my barrel and 5 litres to a demi john which I dry hopped with a bit more nelson.  After a week I blended both of these and transferred them to a corny keg.  I only left it in the barrel for a week as I was worried that the barrel would rub off too much on the beer due to the large surface area that was in contact with the beer.

This was going to be the first beer I force carbed in a keg and bottled using a Blichmann Beer Gun.  Big thanks to Pete for helping me out with how it all works. We of course were missing a small connector so couldn’t bottle the beer as planned so I managed to drink 3 litres of it from the keg in a week.  The part arrived and I used the gun, which is a bloody dream! It was so quick, however I must have fucked something up somewhere as the carbonation has dropped somewhat in the bottle. Top tip for bottling with the beer gun, ensure everything involved is in the fridge and chilled beforehand otherwise you’ll be trying to bottle foam.

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The taste of this beer though is fascinating, it’s herby and citric and very refreshing. It’s initially like a standard saison but then you get this almost Nordic herb liqueur twang followed by a big lemon drop.  Very happy with this, just need to get the beer gun down for next time.

 

New Fashioned

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I’ve started attending the homebrew club at Water into Beer in Brockley.  It’s a great little group with a good mix of experience plus you get a discount on any ingredients you buy whilst you’re there. If you’re lucky, Olly the Brockley cat will saunter in and show you who’s boss. It’s held on the first Sunday of every month, come join us.

The challenge for April was to brew a rye beer which I’ve never done before.  I’ve had a few rye beers recently that are trying to imitate the cocktail Old Fashioned (Namely Tempest’s Old Fashioned and Brooklyn’s Improved Old Fashioned, both, quite frankly, bloody delicious).  I’m a huge fan of Old Fashioneds, it’s my go to cocktail if I have one.  So I decide I want to give it a go. I wanted smoked rye to get a little peaty note in but couldn’t get any so went with roasted rye instead.  I added the rice hulls to avoid a stuck mash which I was very nervous about but the day went surprisingly well.

I did a 10 litre batch

1,730g pale rye malt
500g Rye malt
160g Carared
110g Crystal malt
110g Melanoiden malt
35g Roasted rye
125g rice hulls

15g Amarillo 20 mins
10g Amarillo 15 mins

US05 yeast to ferment
50g bourbon oak chunks and zest of 2 oranges added for last 2 days

The OG for this was 1.061 and it finished off at 1.010 so came out about 6.6%.

I am so happy with how this has turned out.  It’s kind of desserty, the vanilla in the oak has really shone through.  I did want to add angastora bitters but I just wasn’t sure how much and it was tasting so nice I didn’t want to risk ruining it. Sad I only made 10 litres.