Tuesday 6 November 2012

Update on home brewing exploits

After the relative success of my first two adventures in all grain brewing, I've really caught the bug. The idea of making tasty beer at home at a reasonable cost is one thing, but having my eyes opened to the infinite possibilities accessible through four simple ingredients is a different thing altogether. Brewing has, of course, been around for thousands of years and yet styles continue to evolve with commercial brewers always willing to push boundaries in search of The Next Big Thing.

As a home brewer, I started out brewing stuff in styles I like drinking. AG#1 was a shameless clone of Green Flash's excellent West Coast IPA. I like to think of it as a sincere form of flattery of what I consider to be absolutely the best IPA coming out of San Diego. Best drunk fresh, of course, but more on that later. The support I received before, during and after that first brew really pushed me on to brew more. The brew itself wasn't great. It was decent, and I'm still drinking it, but I know I can do better. Like most things in life, there's always room to improve. That brew taught me that dry hopping doesn't just involve sprinkling hops on top of a fermenter and hoping for the best - you need to get the little bleeders actually suspended in the beer for good results and that's not as easy as it sounds.

The second brew, Nelson Saison, was my contribution to SupSaison, a celebration of the style hosted by top beer blogger Phil Hardy. I was pretty pleased with how it turned out. The wonderful Nelson Sauvin hop turned out to be a good bedfellow for Wyeast's 3711 French Saison strain, their aromas and flavours sitting together very nicely in the glass. I drunk about half of it and gave the other half away and people seemed to like it, which was very rewarding for me. I can understand why some brewers read their reviews on ratebeer and similar sites, especially if that's their only window for feedback, but in my view you can't beat face to face (or tweet to tweet) personal feedback to learn how to improve and know what people really think. I've certainly learned the most from talking to other home brewers and commercial brewers, and they're a very supportive bunch.

The first two brews were pretty big (8% and 7% ABV respectively) so for my third, I wanted to try something a bit more sensible. Here's the recipe:

The brew day was a bit of a disaster. Actually there were two brew days. The first involved me flooding my kitchen and the second saw the hose attaching the false bottom of my mash tun to the tap fall off during the mash (twice). I fell out of love with the brew from the outset and, convinced it was spoiled, left it far too long in secondary fermentation. My second lesson in dry hopping is that you can't leave a beer on hops for weeks on end. It'll end up smelling like vegetables. In a miracle of brewing science, the beer itself isn't too bad. Yes, it smells a bit odd (that may settle down) but tastes pretty nice. A lovely pale colour, decent body and rasping but not overwhelming bitterness. I will revisit this recipe and try not to mess it up next time!

My fourth brew was a revisit of Nelson Saison but with a pomegranate twist. I had intended to brew a beetroot Saison, but couldn't get the juice I wanted to go along with the veg itself. Instead, I opted to brew something similar to my first Saison but use pure fruit juice to hopefully add some flavour and colour to the beer. The recipe was similar to the first attempt but I substituted Maris Otter for the Pilsner malt and used Nelson in flower rather than pellet form (can't find the latter for love nor money!) and toned the bitterness down a bit. As I write, that's in secondary fermentation which saw me add some more Nelson Sauvin hops for aroma and another bottle of POM brand juice, which handily is chock full of sugar.

My fifth and most recent brew was an Imperial Stout. This is my wife's favourite style and I wanted to brew something for her to enjoy. Here's the recipe:

I'm planning to split the batch and age some on French Oak chips soaked in Maker's Mark bourbon and some on Coffee beans with Vanilla pods. This brew was the first where I'd used a yeast starter, following the excellent instructions David Broadford Brewer Bishop wrote up here after a talk at the Leeds home brew club from the ever helpful Dominic Driscoll of Thornbridge Brewery. The brew day was my smoothest yet but I did lose some gravity points from running off too quickly, so the beer started off at 1.085. Two days in the fermentation is going great guns (pic to the right) so I'm hoping to be able to transfer it this coming weekend, which will also see me bottling the Pomegranate Nelson Saison (it's all go!). 

When I wrote last December (as part of my Golden Pints submission) that the beery thing I'd most like to do in 2012 was to start home brewing, I had no idea how fun and rewarding I'd find it. I've met new people, learned an awful lot about the art and craft of making beer and most importantly, found a new passion to get my teeth in to. This Sunday (November 11th) I'm entering my first home brew competition, organised by London Amateur Brewers, having entered my West Coast IPA and Nelson Saison in their respective categories. I'm really looking forward to getting some judges feedback as well as spending the afternoon chatting to fellow home brewers and I'm sure sampling some wonderful beer. Home brewing is on the rise in the UK and I, for one, am happy to be involved in the vibrant, supportive and sharing community that underpins it.


  1. You've been busy! Good luck on Sunday. Let me know how you get on. Your Saison is a belter!

    1. Thanks David. I'll tweet you once I've got the scores. I think the Saison will fare best of the two, but I'm realistic about where I am compared to others who've entered. I plan to spend the afternoon asking lots of questions of those more experienced than me.

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