Luke, I am your Grainfather

OK, daft puns out of the way, let’s get down to business.

I’ve managed to persuade the wife to let me buy myself a fairly expensive Christmas present this year. I’ve driven cars that cost less than this bad boy but I’ve lusted after one for a long time now and it’s the logical next big-ticket piece of equipment for my set up. And I saved up for 2 years for it, so why the fuck not?! The kids can have shoes next Christmas.

I’d not seen one up close before, let alone used one so when I took it out of the box I was actually slightly underwhelmed by how small it was. It’s amazing that something so compact can do so much. It’s immediately noticeable that this thing is seriously well made. I’m so used to shit quality merchandise from China (i.e. pretty much everything available for sale in NZ) that to hold solid, precision made stainless steel pipework in my hands is something of a novelty. I can see where the $1150 went. Considering it’s manufactured in NZ by an NZ company (iMake), just over a grand seems quite reasonable really. Once assembled, it’s a thing of beauty. Stainless steel always looks good, but this seems to be really well designed too, light and portable and nicely presented. They include spares of the silicon parts and a variety of hose attachments to get it hooked up to your water supply. Apparently the modules (pump motor, heating element, temperature control etc) are interchangeable and upgradeable and that means the failure of one doesn’t mean the whole thing’s

Haven’t managed to brew with it yet, too busy with Christmas etc etc but I have given it a cleaning cycle. Really impressed with the element – when it’s in 2KW mode it’s basically an outsized domestic kettle, and boils up the water in no time.The pump is great – no more siphoning or stuggling across the basement carrying large vats of boiling liquid. The only downside that I can see is the amount of disassembly and cleaning that will be necessary after each brew.

I can’t wait to use it for real !


In the pursuit of hoppiness…

There are so many craft beers out there with really naff puns on the word hop for names, I just thought I’d get the hoppiness/happiness out of the way right at the start.

Anyway, the humble hop. I’ve decided that that’s what I’m going to attempt to cultivate in my soon-to-be-renovated glasshouse. They grow in abundance in Nelson where it’s much sunnier and much warmer than Dunedin, and my mum reckons they grow in Farnham, Surrey, where the climate is much more similar to ours here. So surely I should get some decent produce in a glasshouse? I’ll even put some outside to grow up the posts of the deck. Besides, what the fuck else does one grow in a glasshouse? I mean, tomatoes are all well and good but by the time your crop is ready so is everyone else’s and they’re dirt cheap in the supermarket. No, I’m going to grow me some fucking hops.


Green bullet hop

Well, that is the idea, anyway. Getting hold of the little green bastards is proving to be quite difficult. It would be probably be easier to buy marijuana than hops. And I’m not even really joking. I have spent several evenings trawling the information superhighway and coming up blank. There are loads of stockists of dried product, but not live plants or even seeds.

TradeMe has proved to be the only outlet and there are precious few vendors there. I managed to secure a single female Smooth Cone and a ‘probable’ Green Bullet for $25 between them. Probably way over the odds, but right now, I’m not really in a position to complain.

The green bullet was purchased off a really interesting hippy dude out at Aramoana, he reckons it grows a few inches a day in growing season. Either way, this little plant looks super healthy and I expect to get a few flowers at least this summer. The smooth cone came down from the North Island somewhere, from a reasonably commercial outfit (i.e. they take Mastercard). I was a bit worried that it would arrive brown and shrivelled after a week in the back of a van, but it appears healthy enough, at least its (somewhat scant) foliage is green. Hops are rhizomes so you just basically get a piece of root and transplant it, so I’m told. Then once it’s established, it takes over your garden because it grows voraciously. I’m keeping all mine in pots and planters, just to be on the safe side. There are worse ‘weeds’ to have in your garden though…



Smoothcone hop

Stout and bananas.

I decided to remake the chocolate stout, but without the chocolate. I’m really enjoying stouts and porters this winter, and although I’ve probably left it a bit too late – it’ll be well into spring by the time this one is ready to drink – it doesn’t hurt to have a couple of crates of the black stuff in stock.

I decided to add a bunch of extra DME to this one, in the hope of pushing the ABV into the 7-8 percent territory which will permit me to call it an imperial stout. We can but try.

So, in addition to the 2 tins of stout extract and the 1KG of stout enhancer, I’ve chucked in 500g of DME and some lactose. I’ve used the same SafeAle 04 as before.

All went according to plan, and the SG was 1.08 so things were looking decidedly positive. The fermenter was set at 18 deg, a nice gentle temperature, and fermentation started less than 24hrs after I pitched the yeast. This was some sort of record. After 48hrs, it was going mental, a bubble passing through the airlock every 3 or 4 seconds. This continued for another 24hrs, and then when I went down to check on it on the morning of day 3, I was in for a surprise.

I opened the refrigerator door and was hit by a very strong and unusual aroma. It took me a while to place it, because although it is a common and easily identifiable smell, this was not the situation in which I would expect to find it. Bananas. Really fucking bananas. I would imagine that whatever is making this smell is the same thing they use to make banana flavours in sweets and stuff. It smells like banana muffins when they first come out of the oven.

This is not an intended aroma, this is most definitely an off-flavour, so I quickly consult the interwebs for advice and it turns up the following possibilities:

  1. Too warm fermentation
  2. Insufficiently aerated wort
  3. Infection

I can immediately discount 1. as my STC1000 was set at 18 degrees, which is just about the perfect temperature for a stout. Insufficient aeration is a distinct possibility, because to be honest I never do more than pour the wort into the fermenter from a few feet up so it sloshes about a bit. It’s never been a problem before though. I discount this possibility a few days later, as fermentation is still going on. Surely lack of oxygen would have killed the yeast before all the nourishment was gone out of the wort?

The most likely candidate, I surmise, is infection. I noticed that the foam on the top of the wort had reached up as far as the lid in the first couple of days of ferocious fermentation – I sanitise the inside of the lid, but not as fastidiously as the fermenter itself. It could also have been the wort chiller, which has been hanging in the basement through some fairly dirty and dusty renovations. It was bagged, and I did give it a quick clean and spray with StarSan but perhaps I’m getting a bit lax these days.

All I can really do is try my hardest to eliminate these possibilities next time.

After 2 weeks when fermentation is all done, the stout has a slight sweet taste, but it’s thankfully not bananas. I can’t decide if the sweetness is solely due to the lactose or not, but it’s certainly not the ‘cloying’ sweetness that one reads about. Definitely worth bottling though, so there are now 2 dozen conditioning at 18 deg in the fridge.

Chocs away

Before this Chocolate Stout went into the fermenter it tasted divine. Absolutely amazing. I don’t really remember tasting at bottling time, but it smelt great though.

When I cracked open the first bottle two weeks later though, I was in heaven for about 10 seconds. Delicious chocolatey aroma, good solid stout taste with a gorgeous chocolate overtone. Wow, this was some amazing shit I’d knocked together out basically out of my head. Then the bitter aftertaste kicked in. And I mean really kicked. Not a hoppy bitterness, but a raw cacao bitterness. If you let the yeast eat all the sugar in your chocolate, what’s left is really quite bitter. It begs the question, what the fuck were the Aztecs or whoever it was that invented chocolate thinking? Did someone say “guys I know these weird beans taste like battery acid, but trust me, put some sugar (which we, as a society, don’t even have yet) on them and people are going to go nuts for this shit, I’m telling you”. And it’s quite a pervasive and long lasting aftertaste too.

Needless to say I was mighty pissed off that I was going to have to pour 20L down the gurgler. Two tins of extract, 1KG of supplement, 500g of DME and a speciality yeast, not to mention a perfectly good slab of choc. Wasted!

Or was it?

A couple of weeks later I came in a little drunk and decided to give it another try. It had improved, and quite a lot. The bitterness has sort of subsided, to the point where it’s approaching drinkable. It’s not carbonated to my liking, but it’s still early days. I think I’ll keep this, as it should improve still further.


Chocolate Stout – an experiment

I love chocolate. I love stout. I love chocolate stout, it’s a perfect marriage of two seemingly incompatible flavours. Well, I say I love chocolate stout, but I guess I’ve only tried a couple. Young’s Double Chocolate Stout is the gold standard chocolate stout, but off the top of my head, I can’t think of any NZ craft choc stouts. So let’s make one shall we?

My brewery is currently disassembled, as I’m rebuilding the room and I don’t have a lot of space, so I’m going to cheat and use extracts, so I can do the cook up in the kitchen (only need a 20L pot for extracts). I don’t have a specific recipe, but reading a few forums I decide that it’s basically a case of make a plain stout and chuck some chocolate in. Simples. Somewhat surprisingly, Coopers Stout kits are only $12 in the supermarket, so I purchase a couple, with the intention of doubling up. I also get some stout extract/enhancer and some better yeast. And obviously the star ingredient, a big ol’ bar of dark chocolate.

It’s a while since I did an extract brew, so I have to look back on my notes from previous brews. I’ve never used enhancer before, so I need to do a little research to discover when exactly is the best time to enhance the beer. Instructions on the enhancer bag suggest you boil and then sieve it, but fuck that I can’t be arsed. I’m going to be cold-crashing anyway, so that should take care of any particulate still floating around at bottling time. So I boil up two cans of extract and a bag of enhancer (which has a combination of DME, lactose and other sugar/carbs in it), some extra lactose for good measure, and at the end I throw in a whole bar of Whittaker’s 72% Cocoa Ghana dark choc, and a couple of cups of cocoa powder.

  • 2 x cans Coopers Stout extract
  • 1kg Mangrove Jack’s Irish Stout Enhancer
  • 100g Lactose
  • 250g 70% cocoa dark chocolate
  • 100g cocoa powder
  • Safale S-04 English Ale yeast

This lot produces a starting gravity of 1.0633 (whoo hoo!). It might even finish up being an imperial stout if it all goes according to plan.

Into the fermenter it goes, at 19.5 degrees, and fairly enthusiastic bubbling is occurring not much more than 24hrs later. This slows down within a couple of days and has all but petered out after a week. 10 days later and we’re all done, I reckon, so it’s time to throw in some Jell-O and crash the temperature.

The taste at this stage is extremely encouraging. Pretty sure I got the chocolate levels just about spot on. It smells more chocolatey than it actually tastes, like liquid gateau. The cocoa, now stripped of the sugar that usually softens its taste, leaves a slight bitter aftertaste but it’s a perfectly acceptable alternative to a hoppy bitterness. Can’t wait until this bad boy is ready to drink…


Two words. Fuck Stevia.

So, the best thing about my batch of stevia-sweetened cider is that I only made a dozen bottles.

Jeez, it was rank. I put varying amounts of the ‘magic’ green powder in different bottles, ranging from 1/16 tsp to 1/2 tsp, some with additional lactose, some not. The ones with lactose are just about bearable, but the stevia-heavy bottles are virtually undrinkable. Disappointing to say the least. I could live with the appearance – it’s not just cloudy, it’s positively bitty and it’s obvious that stevia is not in the slightest bit soluble. It looks like pondwater, literally. I could almost live with the initial taste – it’s sort of sweet. Weird, but sort of sweet. It’s the aftertaste that’s the killer blow, and something that I can’t ignore. It’s foul. Fucking foul.

So, the rest is going to be added to Dunedin City Council’s waste water system. Sigh.

I offered the rest of the stevia powder to the wife, for baking purposes. The response is unprintable.

Stevia wonder

I’ve got another cider almost ready to bottle. Just a few more ‘blops’ to issue forth from the airlock and I reckon we’re ready. It’s been a long fermentation, this one. It’s a combination of the 1kg extra sugar I added, and the lower fermentation temperature.I set it at 22 deg, where my previous ciders (without the benefit of temperature control) have been up around 26 deg. Last time out I used a little lactose to take the edge off the ‘dryness’ but this time round I want to make something a little sweeter tasting altogether.

I think I would have to add about half a cup of lactose to each 750ml bottle to achieve the level of sweetness that you get in your Rekorderlig, Orchard Thieves etc and I think that would probably give you the shits to boot. Alternatively, I could kill off the yeast somehow, before all the fructose is used up, but that a) sounds like a hassle and b) gives you flat cider.

So, I was contemplating searching for some artificial (non fermentable) sugar substitute when I suddenly thought of stevia. The wonder drug. The new, natural Saccharin. Why not? I wonder how easy it is to obtain? Two minutes of Googling and I’m out the door, heading down to the local healthfood store. “Sure, we have stevia powder. Here it is in this jar and it’s only $86 per kg”. WTAF?? This is going to make my home made cider super expensive. The lady said “you don’t need much”. I should fucking hope not, at that price. So, I very carefully ladle out 100g of this fairly unpleasant looking green powder into a baggie and head up to the counter. I know healthfood shops aren’t generally the place to buy cheap stuff, but this is ridiculous. Still, let’s give it a go!


What does it taste like? Fucking horrible. I literally dipped the very end of the tip of my little finger in, and it made my tongue recoil in terror. This is sweeeeeeeeeet. Really insanely sweet, with a slightly bitter aftertaste. This is going to require very careful handling. The basic consensus of opinion on the net is that it’s 12-15 times stronger than sugar. At least that’s what all the bakers say, couldn’t find anything definitive on a brew forum.

So, by my calculations, half a teaspoon of this shit is going to be the equivalent of 2 tablespoons of sugar, which is what I would imagine there is present in a bottle of sweet cider. Half a teaspoon is the smallest measuring spoon I can find in the kitchen but I want a quarter so I have to make do with a rough guestimate of half a half teaspoonful. I added a little lactose to each bottle too, in the hope that it softens the stevia’s bitter aftertaste.

This is going to be an interesting journey. It could be unpalatable, only time will tell…