El Niño, love your work…

So, we’ve had a belter of a summer. An absolute beaut, as predicted by the meteorologists mored applesnths beforehand. The el Niño weather system, pattern, phenomenon, whatever you want to call it, has done us proud this year. Some poor bastard farmers have experienced drought, and the rural fire brigades have been rushed off their arses dealing with bush fires, but we here in nice temperate Dunedin have had a glorious growing season for fruit. Apples to be precise. In previous years we have had the odd light pinkish tinge to a few mainly bright green apples but this year some are almost crimson in colour. Hopefully this is going to translate into higher fructose levels and hence a tastier (and stronger?) cider.

A big storm three weeks ago cost us maybe half the fruit on the trees, but they were literally bending under the strain so I was never going to be able to sue it all anyway. Last year I pressed everything in sight – this year I plan to be more selective, and discard anything that’s not A1. If it’s been on the ground more than about 10 minutes I’m not keeping it, similarly if it has any blemishes or signs of unwanted inhabitants then it’s going to the compost heap. I filled four x 40L plastic bins with ‘good’ apples and from that I should get enough for a decent batch of cider plus a few L left over for drinking.

The pears were a bit of a let down – there was quite a bit of fruit on the honey pear tree, but I didn’t get a single piece before the wasps (who are really doing well this year) polished off the lot. The other pear tree has a bigger crop than ever before, but it remains to be seen if they ripen before going rotten.

I started pressing apples last week, and about 2L in, the fucking Apple Fucker fucking broke. I put a little too much on the pump and with a resounding crack, 3 of the cross struts split. When I repaired it I changed the design a little – I made sure the holes for the coach bolts were a lot further away from the edge of the wood (this was where it failed), and I also took the opportunity to increase the height of the press, allowing for an additional two platters of fruit pulp. This increases the capacity by 40% and means I can squeeze out almost 2L in one hit, a great efficiency improvement.

fuck apples

The Apple Fucker Mk II

I’m not sure when the next fermentation will happen, I’m halfway through rebuilding the basement floor and I really need to get it finished before I do another one. Ho hum.

Water, agua, eau, acqua, Wasser, wai…

Water has many uses – drinking, washing, swimming in, cooling stuff, heating stuff, pissing in, torturing people with, the list is endless. Surely the most important though is making into beer. No beer can be made without water. I’m fairly certain about this, although I could be wrong. There could be some obscure island in the middle of the Pacific where they make beer from coconut milk or monkey piss or something, but for the purposes of this article, let’s say that water is e-fucking-ssential to the beer making process.

speightsI started out making my beer from water out of my kitchen tap, passed through a household filter jug, presumably containing some sort of charcoal filter. I don’t know really. As tap water goes, it’s very drinkable – my family drinks bucketloads of the stuff and we all have good teeth and our hair hasn’t fallen out so I guess it’s not too bad. Like pretty much all NZ drinking water, it has fluoride added. I have no idea what this would do to beer (to yeast in particular) but it’s probably not a happy encounter, not for the yeast anyway. And I don’t see how a little charcoal filter can remove all the fluoride either. So I’ve been using Speight’s water for the last year or so. This water is allegedly untreated, and it’s what they make their beer from, so I guess it’s OK. It’s certainly more convenient, as I could zip down the hill to the brewery and back a dozen times in the 2 or 3 hrs or so it would take me to filter enough water for a brew. I got myself a 30L camping billy, so between that and a couple of empty milk cartons I can get enough water in one trip.

I did read up fairly intently on water quality when I first started (John Palmer goes into quite a bit of detail in How To Brew), but I’ve forgotten pretty much all that shit, because the proof of the pudding, as they say, is in the eating, and I’ve tasted a LOT of good homebrew beer made from unaltered Speight’s water.

water_spec

Specifications – Speight’s water

It has a pH of 8.0 which is slightly alkaline. I’m not at the stage where I am interested in mash pH, so I’m just going with what I can get. The other trace elements (fluoride, chloride, nitrate, sulphate, sodium, potassium, phosphate) are seemingly low concentrations, but really, I haven’t a fucking clue if they’re good bad or indifferent (or that different to what comes out of the tap in my kitchen!).

However, apart from anything else, a trip down to the Speight’s tap is pretty much guaranteed to yield an interesting conversation with a fellow brewer, conspiracy theorist, anti-vaxxer, doomsday prepper or other random odd character…

A little pale ale..

speights

Speight’s delicious flouride-free water

This is my second brew in the space of a month. The once seemingly limitless rows of bottles on my beer shelves has dwindled to the point that I need to make more, and soon. It’s also a chance for me to try out a couple of new toys!

So, I was trawling the web for a good pale ale recipe and I chanced upon a Little Creatures Pale Ale clone, and in BIAB format too. I’ve drunk a lot of this beer recently, as it’s one of the only craft beers they sell on tap in my work’s current favourite watering hole. This is the first time I’ve tried a clone of something I actually know, so this time I’ll have something to compare it to. Or I would have done if I could have obtained ALL the required hops, with no substitutes. I’m really putting my beer’s authenticity in the hands of the guys at the Malthouse – so far I’ve no reason not to trust them, so if they say Motueka is an acceptable sub for Galaxy hops then who am I to argue?

Grain Bill

  • Ale Malt – 3.7kg
  • Munich I – 225g
  • Wheat Malt – 225g
  • Caramunich II 75g

Hop Bill

  • East Kent Golding – 16g
  • Galaxy (I used Motueka instead) – 10g
  • Cascade – 26g

So, new toy #1 is a digital thermometer. What the hell was I thinking, trying to get by with a candy thermometer? This makes it so EEEEEASY. Best $40 I ever spent. It’s even got an alarm so I know when I’ve reached my mash temperature. It also helps that I’ve got more used to the delicate ‘throttle’ on my burner, but I have been able to leave the thing for almost a whole hour without needing to fuck about turning it up and down constantly. Because the candy thermometer was so small, I had to remove it from the wort and blow the steam off it every time I needed a reading, which can’t have been anywhere near accurate. Oh well, these things we learn by experience. Note – it appears that the thermometer (actually a meat roasting thermometer) is not 100% accurate. Even though the wort is clearly boiling, the display only shows 99 deg. This means that my mash temp was a degree or so more than I thought, but I’m not too bothered by this.

So, this time I am trying a few minor changes in order to improve my efficiency. I’ve agitated the bag in the kettle a whole lot more this time, really ensuring that as much water flows through the grain as possible. I’ve tried to extract as much liquid from the discarded grain as possible. I’ve been MUCH more accurate with my mash temperature. I dread to think how much fluctuation there was with the previous set up. I’ve paid more attention to the mashout this time (not really mentioned in the last recipe I used). And this time I have some DME standing by just in case I need to bump up the SG 🙂

I’ve created a starter again this time, although I probably didn’t need to, given that this beer is only going to be around 5% at the most. One fellow brewer makes a starter every time, just so he knows he has good yeast – I can see his point, you wouldn’t want to use up 3 hours and a bucket of grain only to discover that your yeasticles were firing blanks. Anyway, MY yeast (a good ole SafeAle US05) has made a good start on devouring all the malt extract I fed it yesterday. No problems here.

New toy #2 is a refractometer. Courtesy of Aliexpress I’ve been able to get one for $30. I know the quality of the stuff you can buy on this site is generally poor but it’s worth a punt. Even if it’s not totally accurate, it will be very useful for determining if fermentation is still occurring, without having to draw off (and consequently waste) 100ml in order to use the hydrometer (which was only $10 so not likely to be totally accurate either. One drawback with buying shit off a Chinese website, the product descriptions are not brilliant. Turns out I’ve bought one measured in Brix rather than SG, so I’ll have to convert each time. Never mind.

So, the SG was not as high as I wanted (but an improvement on last time). I toss in a pound of DME as insurance. We’ll see…

nb This is the LAST time I try and do a brew on a week night. The boil has only just started and it’s already 21:30. I’m not going to bed until midnight at this rate, because I’m one of those people that just can’t leave the dirty pots until the morning. They are so much harder to clean if you let them dry…

A crash course in cold crashing

My APA demanded so much hops that there was probably 5L of green sludge at the bottom of the fermenter by the end of the fermentation period. The wall of green extended well above the level of the tap – this would mean transferring the other 18L of ‘good’ beer to another receptacle before bottling.

I had heard the term ‘cold crashing’ but never really investigated it, thinking of it as an advanced technique used by lager producers. Well it’s certainly not advanced, and it’s saved this APA from a cloudy future. Seeing as my fermentation bin lives in a refrigerator anyway, I took the plunge and dialled the STC1000 down to 3degC after the fermentation was over. It took about 8hrs to reach this temperature, which is when I tossed in the gelatin. Gelatin you say? Yes, I dissolved a teaspoon full of plain jelly mix in hot water (not boiling, we don’t actually want jelly) and added it to the beer, giving the fermenter a quick shake. Apparently this is another fining agent, and causes the hop particles and larger bits of yeast to clump together and fall to the bottom. FFWD 24hrs and the beer is a lot clearer. A helluva lot. Bizarrely, though, the 5L of green sludge at the bottom seems to have shrunk to 4L. I was expecting it to have grown, as more of the stuff came out of suspension and settled onto it, but evidently the gak at the bottom condenses itself too.

Hop sludge or barf?

Hop Sludge, 4L thereof

Anyway, brilliant news, I appear to have reclaimed a litre of beer from the clutches of the sludge monster. It’s easy enough to siphon the beer off the top of the green and into another fermenter, from which I can bottle. The green gunk seems to be sitting on top of the yeast trub, and because the hop matter is heavier, it is stopping it from clouding up at the slightest movement.

Verdict – cold crashing rocks*. I will use this method again, probably for every beer I make. The one drawback seems to be that because a lot of the yeast is being removed before it gets to the bottles, conditioning will take somewhat longer. So, I’m going to have to wait a while to taste this APA. It tasted, looked and smelled gosh darn divine at bottling – even if it doesn’t improve at all before I crack the first one open, I’ll be happy.

* This probably renders my incubator redundant before I even get to use it. I discovered, when I finally got hold of a manual, that it can only heat. It doesn’t do cooling. So cold crashing will require a separate fridge anyway. That’s a bummer because it had the potential to be majorly awesome.

An American Pale Ale in London

Well, An APA in Maori Hill, Dunedin to be precise. I’ve really got into IPA and APA recently so I decided to find a BIAB recipe and make my own. I trawled the Interwebz and came up with quite a few, but the number that had a BIAB version were few and far between, so in the end I went for a clone of something called 3 Floyds Zombie Dust, from the US. I know Maverick in Wanaka does a pale ale of some description called Zombie Dust but I don’t know if this is coincidence or plagiarism. I don’t really care, because I seem to remember enjoying Maverick’s Zombie Dust. The original recipe was on the HomeBrewTalk top 100 but I managed to find the BIAB version on BIABrewer.info and it looked reasonably simple so I headed down to The Malthouse to get me some chicken feed and ganja pellets.

Note – The other brewshop in Dunedin lasted less than a year, I think the guys there were good brewers but possibly lousy businessmen 😦

So, I have some new equipment this time around – I splashed out $75 on a large camping burner. I would dearly love to have been able to justify spending 200 on a Bayou solid fuel rocket booster like the one I borrowed last time but this baby will have to do. I had a play around with it when I first got it and it seemed woefully inadequate so I made a minor modification. The ‘carburettor’, for want of a better word (just a washer, basically) didn’t open wide enough for my liking so I removed it altogether to allow the maximum amount of air into the mix, and while it doesn’t exactly roar, at least I am able to bring 30L to mash temperature in about 30 mins, which isn’t too bad.

The Grain Bill

  • 5.2Kg 2-row
  • 515g Munich
  • 225g Carapils (recipe calls for Carafoam, unavailable in Dunners)
  • 225g Crystal 60
  • 225g Melanoiden

The Hop Bill

  • 21g Pacific Gem pellets
  • 140g Riwaka pellets (in 35g batches during boil)
  • 85g Riwaka (dry hopping)

The entire hop bill was supposed to be Citra pellets but apparently these are only available in the US, and even there they’re not too easy to get hold of. Anyway, the guys at Malthouse came up with substitutes – Pacific Gem as the bittering hop, and Riwaka for the later hop additions. It turns out that I was quite lucky to get Riwaka too, because 80% of the annual crop is sold to the US as a substitute for Citra, and last year the Nelson/Marlborough hop crops were hit bad by inclement weather.

Riwaka hop pellets have the most amazing aroma, so full of citrus. I had to put them in the freezer though, as they were “stinking up the fridge”. I hope this hasn’t reduced their potency though – when I got them out this morning to divide them up into the right portions they still totally honked so hopefully we’re ok. Next time I won’t buy them until the day before.

Yeast and Maltexo soup

Starter

I almost forgot, I’m using liquid yeast, and creating a starter culture for this brew. In the past I’ve always just used dried stuff (SafeAle etc) but I decided to splash out on a Wyeast 1968 smack pack because that was what the recipe called for. About 4x the price of a sachet of SafeAle too!! Because it’s going to end up at over 6% ABV I am taking no chances and made a starter. Good old John Palmer’s How To Brew provides perfect instructions for the first-timer, better even than Wyeast’s own site. I used a 500g of can of Maltexo instead of the brewer’s DME that the recipe calls for (waaay cheaper) and after 4 days I have a beautiful crop of yeasty goodness in my kegerator. I discovered, as I was putting the empty can in the recycling, Maltexo is actually made at the Speight’s brewery here in sunny Dunedin!

I’ve decided that the next piece of kit I invest in will be a digital thermometer. I’m still struggling with a candy maker’s thermometer and at only 6″ long it’s really difficult to read because it needs be entirely inside the kettle for the tip to reach the water.

Anyhoo, the mash went according to plan, it proved quite easy to keep the liquid at the desired temperature with the new burner (well, as much as it was possible to tell, using my crappy thermometer). I hope the chickens like the spent grain this time (they turned their beaks up at the leftovers from the stout). They’re both broody at the moment, which means they are kind of off their food anyway.

Let’s boil this shit. It takes my burner another 30 mins near enough to raise the temperature to boil. At T minus 60 I just noticed that the all-grain version of the recipe has 35g (1 oz) of hops added at T minus 60, and this step seems to be missing from the BIAB edition – I only have about 20g spare, so I have to rush upstairs and retrieve these from the freezer and throw them in. Wonder how they will affect it?

At T minus 15 I toss in the first of 4 x 35g baggies of Riwaka, with another 3 to come at 5 minute intervals until finish. I’m also using finings for the first time.

After the boil is done and all the adjuncts added, so it’s cooling time. I don’t know how

Thai Green Curry ?

Hop soup

much I can trust the reading of the hydrometer at this stage though – it’s so thick with hop gunk that it looks more like Thai Green Curry than proto-beer. Original gravity is 1.042 ish (and dropping as the hops settle) which is waaay below what I was aiming for (1.060 ish). This is bad news. I don’t know where I’ve gone wrong – that’s the second time I’ve come out way below on a BIAB. My efficiency is rather poor, to say the least. Arse!

I gave it a taste, and rather surprisingly, it tastes quite good. It may turn out alright, but who wants a 4% APA ?? We shall see…

What the marketing department said…

I love brewing. Duh. I love drinking my beer. I love drinking other people’s beer. I also love spending loads of time thinking up names for my creations and then drawing up a label for the bottles. I probably spend as much time fiddling about with Google Images and Photoshop as I do actually brewing. A lot of brewers I know don’t even bother to remove the original label off the recycled bottle they’ve put their concoction into. Most of my bottles are ex-Speight’s or DB though, so there’s no way I want people thinking of those pissy mouthwash beers while they’re drinking mine! So, I re-label.

I don’t have designs on brewing commercially – I’m happy swapping amongst friends and fellow brewers and that’s the way it will stay. It is a hobby and nothing more. I do like a good label though, and yesterday I knocked up some ‘branding’  for the last two ‘product lines’ to come out of  the ‘Taylor’s of Maori Hill’ cellar door (cider and pale ale). I’ve decided to do this part only after the beer/cider has been tasted and is verified ‘good’. I don’t want to waste a killer name on a duff brew! I found niice.co to be a brilliant source of high quality, unusual and arty images, but the fonts I use are straight out of Word, and I’m certainly no graphic designer so the finished article is rough and ready and definitely home made. Like the beer 🙂

noclassI was struggling to come up for a witty, original name for the pale ale that was just about finished conditioning in my kegerator, but then one of my all time musical heroes went and died. As far as I know, Lemmy was not a big fan of homebrew or pale ale of any description. It’s fairly well documented that he preferred Jack Daniels and amphetamines, but I figured that he probably wouldn’t mind me dedicating a beer to him. It’s around 5% so at least it’s not totally insulting to the gods of excess.

I am not pregnant

What with Christmas, and my sister being here, and us all going out of town 3 or 4 times I had completely forgotten that there were 20 bottles of cider conditioning down in the basement. So tonight I thought I’d crack one open – that’s 5 weeks in the bottle, so it should be drinkable.

cider cider cider

2015 Summer Cider

Well, it has certainly gained some fizz in those 5 weeks – there is a satisfying amount of pshhht when I uncap it, and it pours pretty clear too. Excuse the Spanish lager glass, it was the closest (clean) receptacle to hand. There are a few little specks of ‘matter’ floating around but I’m not sure if this is yeast or undissolved lactose – anyway, they seem quite heavy so they sink to the bottom quite quickly.

And the taste? Damn, this is pretty good! The lactose has improved it no end. It’s definitely still a dry cider, but the dry ‘tang’ has disappeared and it is altogether a lot smoother. Very drinkable. I don’t know how much lactose you would need to put into it in order to get a sweet cider, but I’m not prepared to attempt it, as I seem to remember reading that too much of the stuff gives you the shits. It doesn’t taste as strong as my hydrometer readings had led me to believe it would be, but thanks to the good folks at Merck KGaA, I now have a reasonably scientific way of determining exactly how strong it is.

Alcohol pregnancy testing kit

pH indicator strips

I was given, by a fellow brewer, half a packet of what look like litmus paper indicator strips. The label says Spezialindikator pH 4.0-7.0 and very little that isn’t in German (which I don’t speak) and they consist of little paper strips that you immerse in the liquid to be tested, and match the end to the colour chart on the packet to see how many alcohols you scored. A bit like a pregnancy testing kit I guess. They came from the Food Sciences department at the Uni, so I guess they must be considered reasonably ‘professional’ – Jesus Tap Dancin’ Christ, they are fucking revolutionary! According to these bad boys, this cider packs 4.4% which is much more realistic than the >7% my hydrometer readings were suggesting. My guess is that before fermentation there is too much fruit pulp in the juice to give a reliable SG using a hydrometer. So maybe I’ll stick to these guys from now on 🙂