Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Beer 3: Moley's Sussex Beast, part 1

This is the story of my first All-grain brewing attempt. Now I'd been blooded by a kit brew and an off-site extract brew, it was time for the real thing.

Half the grain for Sussex Beast
No, it doesn't come from Sussex. I don't either, though half of my extended family live there. But what does come from Sussex and from Lewes in particular is Harvey's Sussex Best, a marvellous ale. Almost a perfect ale. Not too hoppy, not too dark, not too malty, not too strong, just about spot on. And oh how I've missed it. What follows is my attempt to recreate something a bit like it here at home.
I got the idea of trying an all-grain brew after searching for a brewery name, which I still haven't fully decided on. I was searching for mole brewery, and there is Mole's brewery back in the UK, that make some pretty tasty brews, then I stumbled across Sensible Mole. Sensible Mole Brewery is a guy, his kitchen and some hacked together equipment, doing all grain brews. It looked, if not all that quick, possible and relatively straightforward. And hopefully the beer would be something like a nice flat, warm English beer :)

First I would need a Mash Tun.

Bits to make a tun with
For this I had read a cooler would be good, so I found a cheap one with a draining plug, and got some pipe, pipe-joints and glue. I debated copper fittings, but that was going to get damned expensive and require a proper hacksaw and lots of effort. Plastic, especially plastic and glue that apparently is no good for hot water systems due to melting issues, that sounded good to me. The glue in the picture really stinks and gives me a horrible headache.

Anyway, for a mash tun you need some way of extracting wort and spargings at the bottom and some way of pouring in spargewater through a sprinkler at the top. Here's the inside, finished

There's a tap on the top of the cooler now that's attached to the sparge manifold, and another tap on the side attached to the pipework at the bottom. This thing took hours to make, including drilling about 100 holes in the sparge manifold thingy, which was tedious and I'm not sure works all that well. Anyway, there it is, pipes, glue, silicone, a cooler, one Mash Tun.

So what else do I need? It turns out quite a lot. I had to get:
  • A 40L Stock Pot for boiling stuff in.
  • Two 3L measuring jugs
  • A couple of metres of 20mm food-grade siphon tube
  • A couple of metres of 6mm food-grade siphon tube
  • Digital scale
  • A cooling cube (cube shaped plastic bottle thing)
  • A second fermentation bin
  • Funnels
  • A big mesh bag for filtering stuff
  • 3L of milk, for the carton it came in. Some of which went all over the passenger seat in the car :(
  • A long handled spoon
  • Err... there were other things, I'm sure of it.
And that's just the equipment. On top of that I needed Campden Tablets, Calcium Sulphate (or some calcium salt anyway) and sterilising powder.

And a recipe.

First port of call was Google, and I found a recipe in a forum, for a 40 litre batch, which was a bit much, but at least the proportions were there. There was also found a link to a beer calculator. Excellent. Except the beer calculator and the recipe didn't agree. I ended up needing something like:
  • 4 Kg Golden Promise Malt
  • 400g Dark Crystal Malt
  • 215g Flaked Maize
  • 62g Fuggles Hops
  • 18g Challenger Hops
  • 54g East Kent Goldings
  • 18g Bramling Cross
  • Ale yeast
  • Yeast nutrient
Unlike the recipe said, this came out at 50IBU's according to the beer calculator. I don't mind things a little more bitter, eh? As long as it's good and hoppy. Also Bramling Cross do not exist in Australia, so more EKGs are used as a substitute. With that lot, a 25 litre brew and 75% tun efficiency, it should hit an original gravity of around 1.041. I had my doubts it would get anywhere near that efficiency in a hastily bodged together tun used for the first time by an inexperienced brewer, but it's got to be worth a try :)

To prepare I boiled up some water in the stock pot to get it oxidised and take off any metallic flavour. Then I put a load of hot water in the tun to check everything would hold, that the temperature loss was minimal over a couple of hours, and that it wasn't going to leak everywhere. Then I made the wort sprinkler I needed (see sensible mole for this stuff) out of the milk carton. Then the sparging jug from a length of hose and one of the measuring jugs. Then I sterilised EVERYTHING. Which took bloody ages.

Cleaning things. That there is the cube.
Next on the list, get some water prepared. I filled two fermentation bins with 50L of water. A campden tablet was added to each, apparently this gets rid of chlorine and chloramines. Then I had to find out the water composition here in Mosman Park. Turns out that it's pretty good, quite soft, with only 50ppm CaCO3. This means no CO3 reducing salts are needed here. Woo! But some calcium is needed. I added about 20g of CaSO4 per bin based on rough calculations for getting into bitter/pale-ale range. This may have been far too much. It was certainly at the wrong time as I figured out later you're supposed to add it to the mash. Bah. It's only water!

Right, so here we are, it's already 8pm, all the stuff is laid out, there's 50 litres of water prepared and everything is sterilised. 90 minutes to mash and another 90 to boil. So... finished by midnight then I reckon.

As we shall find out next time, fat chance of that matey!
Up next episode - the mash, the boil, cooling it, breaking the fridge and the pork thermometer, and all the other fun stuff.

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Tasting Notes on Molebrau and Old Moley

Up first, Molebrau. Molebrau was a kit brew from a Pilsener type kit with a steepack, a kilo of dextrose and a bit of brown sugar added for good measure. It was brewed in the cupboard, bottled and then sent back to the cupboard for a further two weeks to mature.

Mmmmm. Brown Pilsener.
The first thing I noticed when I unscrewed the cap was the characteristic banana-ish yeasty aroma that always accompanies bottle conditioned homebrew. So far so ... as expected. As you can see from the picture it's got that classic Pilsener colour, a good brown :)

The head didn't hold for all that long, which is fair enough. It was sparkly enough but the beer doesn't have much body. You can taste that it's got alcohol in there, but it didn't have a lot of depth or thickness (for want of a better word). This may just be something I'm not used to because I don't often drink lager, but it did have a bit of a watery taste. I'll have to confirm with another bottle soon, but first I'm going to need to make space in the fridge because it's packed full of Old Moley.

Yes, that is more beer behind the food. And the door's full of it too.
On Saturday last I dragged Gordon to u-brewit in Osborne park again to bottle my brew-on-premises beer. I'd been collecting bottles for some time, and had almost enough, though ended up buying another 20 or so from the place. I know it makes me terribly sad but the night before I had printed out and applied around 120 labels too, just for completeness :)

It took an hour and a half for the two of us to bottle the stuff, trying not to drink too much because we had both driven. There was some banter. I described the Molebrau to Gordon who replied:

"Like crown lager? I quite like crown lager, on a hot day, quite passable really"
"No brown lager"
"Ergh. Nobody likes brown lager."

I sent Gordon home with a couple of cases of Old Moley and still my fridge is as full as it can be. As it's a filtered and force-carbonated beer rather than a conditioned one, it has to be kept cool.
On to the tasting, anyway. It was supposed to be a British Ale style thing, modelled on Directors bitter, albeit one that was filtered and force-carbonated. It turned out to be nothing of the sort. Quite hoppy, amber coloured:

Lighter than an ale but with a decent body to it, definite toasted/burned malt taste at the end. Fairly Australian in style really. And really dangerously drinkable. This one is definitely going to be marked down as a success. Or possibly a dreadful mistake if I empty that fridge in record time. I managed at least five last night (not as big as the one in the pic!!), though in my defence one of them went mostly into the chilli. It reminds me most of James Squire's Amber Ale. Brew-on-premises is, it turns out, pretty damn good.

Right, now I have no excuse to further put off writing about Sussex Beast, my 'real' beer brewing experiment. But I'll leave that treat for at least one more day...

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Beer 2: Old Moley

Old Moley is a brew-on-premise project. This is a novel idea that was mentioned by one of the guys a squash. Instead of making a mess of your own kitchen and needing loads of equipment, sterilising everything, dealing with hot liquids and trying to cool them, keeping fermenting beer in your cupboard and hoping the temperature is constant... Instead of all that you go to a small industrial unit and do it all there.

They do all the sterilising beforehand and cleaning afterwards. They keep the brewing beer in a giant cool-room to ferment and condition, and they have all the bottling apparatus for afterwards.

All you have to do is turn up, pick a recipe and chuck the right things in at the right time, then come back three weeks later to bottle the finished product! Awesome!

So, to prepare, Gordon and I went to the pub the night before, just to make sure I was feeling like hell for the Saturday brewing session. Thankfully it wasn't long after I arrived at "U-Brew It" that one of the guys bottling their batch gave me a beer to help my aching head.

I chose a recipe called "Directors Courage", claiming to be an imitation of ... well you can guess from the recipe name eh? I measured out a few litres of various malt extracts and glucose syrup, then various amounts of maltodextrin, dextrose, about four kilos of actual grain(!) and three lots of hops. The extract and sugars went into the vat with 50 litres of boiling water. The grain turned out to have the same sort of function as the "steepack" in the previous brew, and went into a muslin bag before being boiled for half an hour with the rest. The hops (which I'll have to admit I over-measured) went in at 60, 30 and 15 minutes from the end. Or thereabouts. I think...

Then the whole lot was piped through a heat exchanger and into a 50 litre fermentation bin with some yeast (that had been whisked up with a bit of wort about ten minutes previous, just to get it going). Then my beer disappeared into the back and a man took about $150 off me... Which for 50 litres of beer I'm not going to complain about.

The challenge since then has been to collect enough empty bottles to take 50 litres of beer. It's about 150 standard bottles. Even given three weeks that's a tall order. I've done well but really only managed 48. And some of those were already hanging around in the recycling. I've boosted that up to 100 odd with some help, and there are quite a number of real-ale bottles too, but I'm still about 6 litres short with only two days to go. I hope they'll sell me some more bottles at the place.

The challenge then will be storage. They have to be kept refrigerated. All of them.

Anyway, tasting notes for that will appear in due course. My next entry will be those, or possibly part one of a description of the next beer project "Sussex Beast", the first 'real' beer I'm making from only four things - water, malt, yeast and hops. Turns out it's quite hard work...

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Beer 1: Molebrau

My first brew...

My fermentation bin came with a starter kit, a can of "Deliverance" brand malt extract/wort concentrate and a big bag of dextrose, apparently the favoured food of yeast, our magical allies in brewing. There was also a Pilsener type "Steepack". It turns out that a steepack is a mixture of hops and grain, which you put into hot water for a while and then add the water to the brew. This is supposed to replace some of the hop and grain flavours that are lost when the concentrate is made.

I was interested in doing something a bit more involved than a kit brew but it came with the bin and it as been a long time since I'd done any of this, so I decided to give it a go.

So, instructions for making Molebrau -

  • Sterilise everything. In this case everything was the fermenting bin, tap, airlock and a spoon.
  • Heat up the can in water to loosen the concentrate.
  • Heat a pan of water up to the boil and let it cool down a little before adding the steepack contents Let it sit for 15 minutes or so.
  • Pour concentrate into the fermentation bin with a few litres of hot water out of the kettle.
  • Pour the steepack water into the fermentation bin through a sieve.
  • Add in 1kg dextrose
  • Make water level up to 22 litres from tap, pouring all water through sieve containing left over steepack bits.
  • Chuck in about 250g of dark brown sugar from the cupboard because you have the vague idea it might darken the beer and make it heavier.
  • Wait for the mixture to cool to 25 degrees to pitch the yeast.
  • Realise this is futile as it's 35 degrees in the house, chuck yeast in with the rest, put the lid on the bin, stick the airlock in and shove it in the cupboard.

Molebrau in its kitchen ferment phase
Molebrau took almost three weeks to ferment. This was quite possibly due to it being too hot. It bubbled away like crazy for the first few days then slowed to almost nothing at the end of the first week but the gravity was still too high (about 1.018). The second week it was mainly inactive. Then I moved it to the kitchen and it came to life again. Probably to do with it getting shifted around a bit. I siphoned it into a second bin (it suddenly came to life again!) and left it for another week, adding the finings. Finally at the end of this it was clear and fully fermented. Finally. A month rather than the 5-10 days the kit expected.

On to bottling. Of course first there was the question of labels, so I acquired a printer and some blanks. Et-voila, Molebrau!

So.. Bottling... Sterilise the bottling spout, sterilise 30 bottles (tedious!) and then add in priming sugar for each one. Thankfully this was in the form of dextrose lumps rather than having to deal with powders and funnels.

The bottling spout thingy is an ingenious device that pours beer slowly to the bottom of the bottle without aerating it too much. Everything came out clear and looking good. Except the last three bottles. These had to be tipped out of the bin in a sedimenty, yeasty cloud. I'll save them for last I think.

A Bottle of not-quite-ready-to-drink Molebrau

As of the time of writing, 29 740ml bottles of Molebrau are sitting in the closet in the spare room maturing. Three more days until I can try it... Though of course the idea is to leave it as long as you can stand to as it will mature.

And only four more days until the next brew is ready - Old Moley! An English style ale brewed somewhere else.

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Welcome to Molebrew

Hello and welcome to Molebrew.

This blog is intended as a record of my attempts at brewing beer. I haven't made homebrew since I was a teenager, but have decided to give it another go.

It may be a short-lived obsession, or it may be a longer term thing. Who can tell at this stage?

Currently I have three brews going, which is quite a lot to start with I suppose, but there is a rationale here. The first brew (Molebrau) is a kit brew. The concentrate and a steepack (I'll explain later) came with my first brewing vessel and other useful bits and pieces. The second (Old Moley) is currently fermenting at u-brewit, a brew on premises place in Osbourne park. The third (as yet unnamed, possibly "Moley's Sussex Beast") is mashing in my improvised mash-tun. On which subject, I need to heat the sparge-water and get the hops weighed out!