Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for September, 2009

Update: General Brewing Stuff

Arg, no time to update properly for a while, apologies, but it’ll happen very shortly, we promise!

We’ve fermented, cleaned, kegged, bottled, conditioned and even had another brewday – so plenty more news and photos of brown stuff in various vessels as soon as possible.

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

This year’s hop harvest may have seemed a lot of fiddly work at the time and a hot slog on a sunny September weekend, but it proved well worth it in the end. And at an average price to homebrewers of around a fiver per 100g for new crop hops this year, ‘growing yer own’ is fast becoming an essential boost for those Winter milds, poters and stouts.

The hops had been drying in the makeshift ‘loft oast’ for around ten days when we ventured up to retrieve them. It took a little while as its best to handle fresh hops as delicately as possible in order to retain as much lupulin as possible. All three varieties were nice and dry and just needed packing in bags for storage. I say just….

Now, packing hops is a massive pain in the backside. We don’t have a vacuum sealer and perhaps one of those might be a good idea next year, but even so. Our method is to cram hops into zip lock bags so tightly that there is very little air inside. The bags we use are heavy duty 10″ by 7″ jobs bought in bulk from eBay a while back. If you work and work at it, you can get 100g inside each one, dry weight after taking the bag itself into account. I can’t lie, it’s not easy, but it is very effective and each big is literally ram-packed.

Anyway, check out our efforts below. It took a while, and our fingers were pretty stained and bitter for a day or two afterwards, but it was quite a haul for just three small plants. We now have 400g WGV, 300g Fuggles and 133g Bramling Cross from the 2009 harvest. Not bad at all and perfect for seasonal milds and that all important batch of Christmas Dry Stout!

Read Full Post »

Nothing much to report before the weekend, when we’ll be checking the hops in the makeshift loft ‘oast’ to make sure they’re all fully dried. That’ll mean bagging them up and freezing them until a suitable brewday comes around. We still haven’t invested in a vacuum sealer, so it’s just a matter of stuffing ziplocks and making ’em airtight, just like last year.

In the meantime, the Autumn Ale is shaping up nicely, tested today at 1.018 on its journey from 1.043 to 1.012. I’ll move this brew to secondary quite early because I have the feeling it would go down to 1.009/8 if left alone to clean up for too long. Sunday night, perhaps.

In other news – we’ve run out of draught beer at the Boxshed!

Our Summer hiatus is really starting to bite, so another brewday will have to follow hot-on-the-heels of this one as soon as we can get everything ship-shape. We’ve basically run out of Star-San and Iodophor, so we’ll have to resort to VWP and its clouds of chlorine gas for sanitisation- yuck. On the plus side, I dipped into the final reserves of Boxshed Premium APA last night, enjoying a pint straight from the fridge. What would CAMRA say?

Well, I said “Ahhhhhhhh! Yum! Must brew that again one day!”

Read Full Post »

Just a quick update on the progress of the Autumn Ale, which has taken off like a rocket. It seems very happy in a room at almost exactly 20c. The constant burping of the airlocks is actually quite comforting (as well as off-putting and gas-inducing!) and I think the kräusen will hit the lids on both FVs pretty soon.

Just for fun, here’s a quick video clip of fermentation just 14 hours after pitching. Normally we’d skim all that break/trub to encourage a more vigorous ferment, but this time there’s definitely no need, and we’ll just allow it to settle out and stay behind when each beer is moved to a secondary vessel in around a week’s time:

Read Full Post »

Good news – the upgraded brewery works a treat and the inaugural brew went very well indeed.

We collected 50L split across two fermenting buckets at the anticipated starting gravity of 1.043. It should ferment out at around 1.012 and deliver a deep brown 4% brew with a fat slice of bitterness and a pleasing hop kick. The blend of malts is intended to provide a complexity that waves goodbye to the Summer and it’s more direct pale ales. But we’ve also loaded plenty of pungent hops at the start of the boil to keep things interesting for the hopheads.

We’re pleased to say there were no problems during the brew. The new HLT is probably a little small in volume, but being able to fill it with a hose and heat liquor in situ was still so much easier and safer than hefting hot liquids around. The big mashtun has been a fixture in the Boxshed for a while now and did its job very well as always, maintaining a constant temperature over 90 minutes with ease. The real star was the new boiler, which was our biggest unknown quantity and worry beforehand. The two large immersion heater elements brought 65 litres of sweet wort to the boil very quickly, and a constant rolling boil could be maintained by using either one of the elements on its own. Special mention must go to the new hopstopper created by fellow enthusiast Garth, which coped admirably with several ounces of pellets without any clogging.

Anyway, enough words, here are the pictures already…

Read Full Post »

Brewday: Top Secret Autumn Ale!

It’s all a bit exciting here tonight. We’re putting the new 10 gallon brewery through its paces for the first time, and we’re brewing an entirely new recipe with lots of great quality ingredients.

There are so many new-fangled bits and pieces in the latest brewery setup that could potentially go wrong – what with a new home-made boiler, HLT, hopstopper and electrical connections – that something probably will. But we’ll try and stay upbeat about it. Personally, I just hope 50 litres of lovely smelling, boiling hot brown stuff doesn’t end up on the floor of the Boxshed.

The recipe itself also features a number of firsts. We’re not naming it just yet, because it’s going to be used in a brew-off with my pal Tom (a real brewer by trade). Earlier in the Summer, I suggested to him that all commercial Autumn beers were, well crap. In my experience they’re generally the same shade of mid-brown, tend to taste underhopped or too sweet, and have achingly dull names like Conker, Chestnut, Mahogany, Ploughman’s etc… etc…

While not being quite so sweepingly dismissive of an entire season’s brews as myself, Tom agreed to a friendly brew-off. We’re going to make brown beers, with dull names, that taste great! There’s no winner or loser – we win if they’re both good and we get to drink loads of each! Tom will of course be gambling slightly more than me, as he’ll be making five barrels to my ten gallons – show off…

Anyway, until the drinking starts, the recipe and name of the brew will remain a bit of a secret. I can tell you though, that I’ve mashed in at 65-66c using a blend of five different malts, including one variety that I’ve never used before. I’m adding an adjunct to the boil for the first time too. And I’m using hops imported from the East Coast of America specifically for this brew.

We’ll post an update later – please, please, please don’t let the mash stick or the boiler trip out!

*Quick update : All done, no mishaps, 2 x 25L in 2 x FVs @ 1.043 as targeted. Proper update to follow…*

Read Full Post »

A free September weekend following several days of dry, windy weather billowing through the Boxshed garden, seemed as good a time as any to bring in this year’s hop harvest.

We finally got stuck in at lunchtime on Saturday, and were still at it on Sunday afternoon. Be warned that harvesting hops with any degree of care takes a lot longer than you might think, particularly when you only have a couple of plants and they feel a little precious after months of bine twiddling, feeding and watering.

Just to remind you, we have just three varieties here, which are each grown along wires stretched across two fence panels apiece. These plants are now in their second year, and the difference in the number of hop cones on all plants compared to year one was obvious from the early Summer months. The WGV Goldings went crazy once again, tangling themselves up with all manner of other plants and even managing to grow across the other side of the fence and across the roof of our neighbours’ garage. The Fuggles were perhaps the most impressive this year though, with fewer but impressively larger cones than the WGV. Particularly pleasing was the improvement in the Bramling Cross, which struggled to produce any cones last year but looked really attractive this time round and offered up plenty of bunches of good looking green hops to pick.

We aim to harvest our hops in early September after several days of dry weather and just before the cones start to turn brown. This year all the hops seemed to mature earlier than in 2008. I wouldn’t say they were all ‘papery’, but they were certainly full of orange-yellow lupulin (the good stuff) and would have certainly gone past their best if another week of rain had set in. So down they came.

Our harvesting technique isn’t particularly refined, but seems to work just fine. We use chunky kitchen scissors to cut down manageable chunks of bine from the wires in lengths of about a metre at a time. We then snip each cone at its base into a bin liner stretched over a fermenting bucket and throw spent bines and leaves into the compost or brown bin. We have ripped off the cones by hand in the past, which can be quicker, but I worry that we lose a lot of lupulin this way, so probably waste a lot of time with all the over-careful snipping.

We managed to harvest an overflowing 25 litre fermenter bin full of WGV, nearly as much Fuggles, and around half a bin of Bramling. We were really pleased with this, as well as the quality of most of the cones. Frankly, as you’ll see in the photos, we couldn’t really handle many more hops using our current drying technique (but piles of newspaper pockets would work just fine, no doubt).

The next step was get the things drying, and we decided to use the technique that worked best last year – the loft oast! The idea is that a combination of scattering hops at a single depth on a dry absorbent surface, warmth from the house below and a hot airy loft gets the hops dry quickly and without any fear of mould or rotting. It worked a treat in 2008, so was a no-brainer this year. Of course the increased volume of hops made it a trickier operation. We ‘carpeted’ all available loft space with cardboard removal boxes stored for the purpose, then began scattering from the far end, leaving obvious gaps between the three varieties. Once we were done and ‘painted into a corner’ back by the loft hatch, we surveyed our green pungent crop like hydroponic drugs barons before retreating back to the house below for a week or two.

So all-in-all, a successful and very satisfying Harvest ’09 so far, with plenty of hops drying away happily above our heads. Take a look at the gallery below if you’d like to see for yourself how it all went, and feel free to drop us a line if you want to share your own hop harvest tales or ask anything at all. We’ll post an update soon once all the cones are dry and we put them in storage.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »