Monday, 27 June 2011

Thou Loathsome Braggart!

So it's about time I wrote some more of this stuff up before I forget it!

Anyway, having acquired rather a lot of honey on a recent trip to the South coast, it was time to have a go at making some honeyed drinks. Not wanting to do anything too simple first off, I made a Braggot. Not sure of the name yet, though Lion Mole is somewhat appealing in terms of a sort of double pun. Loathsome Braggot also appeals, though that implies it's going to be pretty disgusting.

As this was not going to be a beer I decided to skip the mash and go straight for an extract. Two cans of Amber Malt Extract from the brew shop come in at around 3.4 kg, and I measured out 2.25 kg of the Honey from Bartholomews Meadery (site seems to be offline at time of writing). I was very roughly following this recipe, having calculated from other sources that the grain bill could be replaced with roughly that amount of malt extract. This allowed me to skip straight to the boil instead of going through the usual mash/sparge process.

The boil schedule was as follows -

  • 28 grams Hallertau-Hallertau hops at 60 minutes
  • 1 Irish Moss tablet at 10 minutes
  • 1 Spoon of yeast nutrient at 10 minutes
  • 35 grams Sweet Orange Peel at 5 minutes
  • 32 grams Hallertau-Hallertau hops at 5 minutes
  • All the honey at flameout.

And a bit of the usual calcium sulphate and a couple of campden tablets at the beginning. This was dutifully cubed, through a muslin bag to remove hop and orange matter, and left to cool overnight. This process is something I've become suspicious of and I'm wondering if it's one of the sources of weird flavours in my beer. But there shall be no more brewing equipment until I move house. Then there's going to be lots...

The next day I sterilised and washed and sterilised and washed until everything was ready. Lion Mole was poured into the fermentation bin and that's when I realised the yeast "slap pack" wanted a 3 hour warm up. Still, we can cut that short, stick it in front of the heater for a while that'll get it going, which it did. An hour and a half later I pitched the yeast and sealed everything up, though it was the next day before it really took off. The SG of this batch was 1.080 which could leave it with an alcohol content as high as 10%, apparently the target. The yeast used here was a Wyeast Belgian Strong, which ought to be able to cope with it.

Lion Mole has now been bubbling away to itself happily for a couple of weeks. In the mean time I wanted to use the rest of the honey, so enter "Buzzin Moley Mead". There are recipes all over the web for mead. Especially one recipe for "Orange Clove Mead" that's repeated everywhere, plug it into google and you'll see. It's supposed to be absolutely foolproof. The basics are -

  • Cut up an orange
  • Chuck it in a demijohn with a couple of cloves and a cinnamon stick
  • Shove in 3 1/2 pounds of honey
  • Add a gallon of water
  • Add some bread yeast

Of course I tinkered with the recipe because, well, there's the old saying that if you make something foolproof, nature will evolve a better fool. Hi!

The demijohn from the brewshop is a bit bigger than a gallon though, so there's going to be five times that much. Unfortunately that means five times that much honey. Roughly 7.9 kilos. And I have 4.75 left... right. More honey. I picked up a kilo of the same honey from a supermarket at great expense, then decided to branch out. So there was a 1.5 kilo mini-bucket of something fairly generic but nice sounding and a half kilo of organic leatherwood honey from Tasmania. This latter had quite a strong taste, almost medicinal, so it may affect the flavour of the finished product. Hopefully not though.

The actual ingredients were -

  • 7.75 Kg of assorted honeys, mostly wildflower from Denmark.
  • About 18 litres of water
  • Six oranges cut into quarters
  • Half a lemon, also in two quarters
  • A cinnamon stick
  • A vanilla pod (split)
  • A couple of chunks of ginger root
  • Some coriander seeds, whole
  • Champagne yeast, started in a bowl with some weaker honey-water
  • Some yeast nutrient
  • A few spoons of CaSO4 and a couple of campden tablets just to make sure

This stuff took a few hours to take off, as usual, but not too long. It's cloudy but apparently will spontaneously clear itself in five or six weeks time, when it may need racking or could be left a little longer and bottled straight off. It's supposed to be ready when the fruit drops to the bottom. I have no idea how I'm going to get the fruit out of there when I'm done.

The smell coming out of the airlock on this one is utterly divine, a beautiful mix of honey and orange and warm spices. Not entirely surprising, just divine. I didn't take a gravity reading on this so I don't know how strong it's going to be, but some rough calculations put it about 15% if the yeast survive that long. I hope they don't because I'd prefer it a little sweet, but using champagne yeast may make it come out very dry. We'll see.

In the mean time I've been reading about Braggots some more and apparently an authentic Braggot has at least 50% of its fermentables from Honey. Lion Mole was more like 60-40. This must not stand! So I obtained another kg of the good honey and dissolved it in some boiled water before feeding it in the airlock hole in Lion Mole's lid. Bubbling has recommenced...

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Fat Moley: Redux

Fat Moley had been such a sod, what with fermenting way past where it was meant to and now being absolutely overpowered with bourbon and vanilla, that I decided to give it another go. This time it seemed a good idea to get started at a reasonable hour so I wasn't up until 2am boiling huge vats of liquid, and so the post-mash wort refining and sparging didn't have to be rushed. I was also going to skip the farting about with additives and just make stout.

Back to the brew shop for another grain bill, slightly altered this time to get things even darker and much more oaty -

  • 6kg Pale Malt
  • 300g Crystal Malt, Dark
  • 300g Black Malt
  • 500g Roasted Barley
  • 1.3kg Oats

It's possible I should have toasted the oats but... whatever. Whilst explaining to the beardy fella in the shop why I had come back for the same ingredients again only a little later, he and another home brewer in the place informed me of the wonders of rice hulls. Rice hulls are the bits of the rice plant that surround the grain, and we don't eat. They are effectively inert in a mash, adding no flavour or fermentable matter to the brew. What they do for the homebrewer is stop the mash from sticking together and getting stuck like Fat Moley take 1 did. I also took the precaution of putting some mesh around the tun's outlet manifold to stop anything getting in there.

The procedure for Fat Moley take 2 was much more by the numbers. I weighed out about 20g of CaSO4 to make up for the lack of calcium in the local water, then put that in with all the grains in the mash tun. This time I heated the water up past where it needed to be (and remembered to put the kettle on for a boost if needed) and got the mash going at 68.5 C, right where it needs to be to get the malt enzymes to produce a good portion of the more complex, unfermentable sugars that give a beer body as well as the more usual sugars that give a beer strength. When the mash was done everything drained out perfectly, thank-you rice hulls (and mesh). For the first time I followed Sensible Mole's advice to the full and poured the sweet wort back through the grain bed three times before putting it aside and starting to sparge. Again, making sure the sparge water was hot enough and sparged through about 18 litres (IIRC), recirculating it all at least once to pick up the maximum sugar from the grain.

Now we boil, with a slightly different set of hops this time too, having read that Northdown was a good choice for stouts. The boil schedule was as follows -

  • 40g Northdown at 60 minutes
  • 40g East Kent Golding at 60 minutes
  • 20g Northdown at 20 minutes
  • 20g East Kent Golding at 20 minutes
  • Usual teaspoon of yeast nutrient and irish moss tablet at 10 minutes

All done for the night, I cubed the boiled wort for the night and froze almost five litres of spargewater in case they were needed. The next day I came home from work, sterilised the usual equipment, started the yeast, boiled up the frozen spargewater, put the wort in the fermenter, shoved in the spargewater and measured the gravity. There were 28 litres of the stuff somehow, at SG 1.063. Far better than take 1, 73% efficiency this time. Woohoo! Then I pitched the yeast and left Fat Moley:Redux to get going. It wasn't long before the first bubbles. It wasn't long after that that I heard a *lot* of bubbles. That's when I saw this -

(Yes, that is a Radio 4 documentary on Morris dancing in the USA in the background)

It was going absolutely nuts. I had to rig up an impromptu blowout tube to safely deliver the krausen (learned a new word!) to a water jug in the sink instead of letting it go everywhere. It bubbled and foamed and gurgled and grumbled all night. After work the next day it had calmed down, so I put it next to take 1 and left them to brew. Redux had managed to blow a full two litres out of its blowout tube overnight.

It's now a few weeks later and Fat Moley take 1 has been bottled. The two weeks I left it between putting in the vanilla/bourbon mixture and bottling have calmed the flavour right down. And it does taste like stout. In fact it tastes really, really good, if slightly on the sweet side. This must be the vanilla as it fermented to a pretty low SG. I'm really having trouble waiting the requisite 2-3 weeks before cracking open a bottle or two. Redux has finished fermenting now too. When I bottled take 1 I tried out my new trick on redux at the same time. Not that stout needs to be clear, but I had heard the gelatine worked extremely well as a fining, when put into the fermenter at the end of fermentation and at least a week before bottling, improving the taste a well as the clarity. So we'll see.

I also made "Lion Moley" Braggot yesterday, but I'll leave the full explanation of that until next time....