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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.

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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!

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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!”

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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:

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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…

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