Category Archives: Beer and brewing news

Three glasses of mild beer

Hong Kong Phooey

Number one super guy. I love him but didn’t get it, the karate kicking hound looked good on the beer bottle label and I thought that was enough. Then it was pointed out he was Henry, the mild mannered janitor. Mild see! It was mild night at Homebrew club and puns were rolling. Welcome to the mild west.

Five different milds and an amazing amount of variation for what is essentially a very simple beer. The variations in colour firstly were very surprising when lined up. Individually you’d probably mark them all as black – but lined up and compared you could see the subtle range from pitch black down to a deep mahogany.

The flavours and aromas too held quite some variation. Malty caramels were abundant but beyond those there were liquorice and aniseed and smoke and chocolates. What – I think – was most welcome was the fact we all agreed milds are a good beer. I know there were reservations about the style, it’s a little old fashioned and unpopular – but it’s a great style, a real contrast against the hoppy pales that prevail.

That said we did also have some additional beers to sample – Al’s great porter was just that. The malt experienced continued with a beautifully conditioned Altbier – the German ‘Old Beer’ style from Dusseldorf. And we ended with some hops to freshen the palate.

The final Rye pale made with Motueka hops to give a light citrussy lemony flavour. And this sparked the conversation about the July theme. Back towards hops away from malts we decided the theme should be ‘West Coast’. As usual make of the theme what you will – the obvious West Coast IPA or maybe a California Steam beer or maybe something from Bristol! I look forward to seeing the interpretations.

Cheers

How to brew a Mild

We were lucky enough to have Paddy and Matt from the brewery with us in this month’s meeting and being back in the boardroom almost meant we lost someone in the bar. In the end it was all good though and we enjoyed some great discussions about the beers brought, enzyme use and parti-gyle brewing.

Before we got to the beers though Paddy and Matt were kind enough to spend some time talking about the history and brewing techniques and recipes you need to make a ‘bostin’ mild. I’ve captured what I can recall here so feel free to use these tips and points to make your own ahead of our Mild May meeting based on CAMRA’s Mild month! (That’s a mouthful that sentence)

First the history, and this is where the excellent ‘Designing great beers’ by Ray Daniels shows its value. The chapter looking at Brown ales and Milds gives a real historical view of their origins but the take away for me is that time was the choice in a pub was between a bitter and a mild, two beers at opposite ends of a spectrum. The bitter end is obviously just that, bitter, and the mild end focused on the malty side of the street. A Mild is a beer designed to showcase everything malt has to offer without the sharp tang of the hops taking up too much space.

The low strength many people associate with a Mild appears to be a newer phenomenon maybe based on ‘value engineering’ of recipes by the brewers as their popularity dwindled and they had to maintain the margins. Paddy created some notes around the recipe and process build – including the strength and I’ll share and explain those here. So first what would you aim for in terms of gravity, colour and bitterness.

The gravity, colour and BU of a Mild

So here we have the specification from two breweries Mitchell & Butler and Highgate. You can see the gravity here would give you a beer of about 4.0%. The interesting aspect of this is the PG. This is the gravity that the beer was filled into cask meaning the beer was quite actively fermenting still when it was packaged and so it really was extremely cask conditioned. The bitterness of around 24 is on a par with a modern commercial lager, enough to balance the sweetness but not overwhelm it. The colour here is quite dark – as I’d expect a mild – but the range can be from a chestnut up to black, so a lot of scope there.

Mash ingredients for a Mild

What about the mash? This is a showcase for malt flavours and you can see here where they come from. The values relate to the mash tun at the brewery but the ratio would remain and then scaled down to your own mash tun size to yield 1035 or so. So a solid base of pale ale malt and then around 4% Crystal. This would probably be a medium colour crystal and then about half that amount of Black malt to get the colour up to where you like. Paddy’s tip was to aim low on the colour as you can always add more with liquid caramel (as per the recipes here) to increase it, but you can’t take it away. The 10% torrified barley and 6% malted wheat give you the body and thick head retention and then sugar as well. This is on top of priming sugar added into the cask. On top of the remaining gravity when filled that priming sugar would have made sure it was a real strong fermentation in the cask. I’ve no idea how it cleared. Note at the bottom Calcium Chloride. This should be added as opposed to gypsum to the mash liquor to emphasise the maltiness.

Additional info on a mild

And finally the process details. You can see a slight difference in the mash temperatures between the two breweries here but it didn’t have much difference on the FG. The boil at Highgate you see is aiming for a massive loss of volume, over 8%, and at M&B it’s still high so a long boil is important, I wonder if that helps with the caramel and Maillard flavour development in the beers? Not mentioned in the notes are the hops. These were discussed but used only for their bittering properties the type of hop used is less important. Traditionally they would be English hops so for authenticity Fuggles perhaps, but they’ll not be adding too much to the finished product. We did discuss the likelihood that in the US an American twist on this beer would definitely be hop loaded – so not traditional but something that could be interesting.

Fermentation was pitched at a normal 17-19C and left to rise naturally up to 23-24C as the yeast got going. The relatively low OG should mean this would probably be done in 3-4 days – less if you move to cask with all those point of gravity left. So this is a quick beer to turnaround and it was often gone so fast in the midlands that it would expected to be drunk young. This means you’ve plenty of time to get yours done before the Meeting on the 25th May when Paddy will judge your efforts and interpretation.

Beer tasting

Easy Tiger

Back upstairs in Unit 4 at the brewery for our March dive into easy drinking gave us a great selection of Pale ales, Saisons and some examples of technical difficulties.

Beer tasting

The March meeting theme was easy drinking and it was a good night of good beers and good company all too easy to enjoy. First though we were inundated with hops. A mistaken order quantity left Fran with a big box of ‘surplus’ hops to share. EKG and Summit were welcomed as any free hops would be despite there being just past their best before date everyone was very sure they could find a use for them.

Onto the main event – the drinking – we kicked off with a variety of pale ales showcasing some fruity and zingy hops. The variety of flavours that can be drawn out of a SMaSH pale is astounding. This coupled with solid, well conditioned malt bases allowed some beautiful beers to be sampled. As ever the questions about ingredients and process, the sharing of advice and isolating improvement opportunities is what the club is for.

We then shifted up a gear to two super – but different – saisons. A very traditional one and one that was a raspberry bomb – the freshness of the fruit flavours being something else. The recipe for this wonderful beer can be found here.

Keeping it fruity we had an interloper of a cider that was light and zesty – a perfect palette cleanser before moving onto something a little more dark. Some great advice was shared regarding the importance of fermentation temperature and pitching levels will hopefully help the evolution of a Timothy Taylor Landlord and a Bass Red Triangle clone. Hygiene is another key factor in good brewing as was shown with a Hazy Jane clone that had been served from a dirty keg. So now we know what Brett tastes like – when it’s unintentional not good.

We saved a milk stout for last to try and erase the nasty taste filthy kit can leave and it delivered some excitement. She’s a gusher, thar she blows as it popped open it popped wasting a lot of a very tasty beer. Enough was salvaged to enjoy but we did ruin a couple or three copies of the CAMRA magazine.

Look forward to next month when it’s open house no theme bring what you have. May however is the month of Mild so start thinking about recipes to showcase malty goodness.

Funky funky

Well that was an unexpected delve into funky sour beers. February’s meeting threw curveballs in both the location and the selection of beers on offer.

Firstly thanks to everyone at The George for the (very) warm welcome and help setting up. The Hop House was a great venue for the meeting, plenty of space and quiet enough for easy conversation and sharing of beer details. I think if we set up more talks or presentation this will be an ideal location.

The Hop House at The George

Then to the beers – without any prompting this session turned into an exploration of funky sour beers. A pineapple sour, a Flanders red, a lambic and a cherry lambic. Quite an exploration of the sour palette and some amazing examples of the layers of complexity fermenting with something other than saccharomyces cerevisiae. The night was topped off with a super Ginger stout that reminded me heavily of Dandelion & Burdock from the Pop truck.

One other difference was the later closing time of the pub – which meant a lively discussion about everything beer and not lasted quite later than usual. A great night all round.

Cheers

January Winter Ale Competition

Our January meeting is planned for Wednesday 26th January 2022 where we’ll be holding the Winter Ale Challenge. Excitingly the winner will take home (Or pick up later…) a beautiful 25kg of Crisp Maris Otter. A biscuity malt that imparts a lovely colour to your beers.

Winter Ale

So how can you win this amazing prize?

Bring your take on a Winter Ale to the January meeting where it will be judged by your fellow club members (and you’ll be judging their beers). The judging system will be explained on the night but what criteria will you be judged on? What is a Winter Ale?

Your Winter Ale should be a big bold beer that evokes dark evenings in front of a log fire while the snow falls heavy outside. Think red leather armchairs and cigar smoke, candle light and sleeping dog at your feet. These are the intangibles your beer should conjure up when tasted. Of course on top of that it has to be technically sound as well. From the colour and clarity through to the taste and aroma. There should be no faults and the recipe should be balanced as we’ve come to expect from our members.

You’ll need to provide at least two 500ml bottles for judging which we’ll serve and judge anonymously.

Please get in touch with any other questions via email or on the facebook page.

The prize
Mashing in

Lockdown brew day

Lockdown brew day

It’s been 3 months and… wait a minute do I sound like Sinead O’Connor here? Anyway it’s been a while since the last WE Homebrew meeting back in February and it could be some time still until the next meeting. I hope, like me, you’ve been brewing and drinking a fair bit more in this time.

It’s a bank holiday Monday and I thought I’d write down how I generally brew and what kit I have. No other reason than just to share and maybe elicit some advice on a glaring mistake I may be making and be completely unaware of.

I’ve got to warn you though – I’ve just finished the day and this is quite a long – and some might say – boring post. TL;DR? I had a big cock up at the end and spilt wort all over the shed.

First and foremost what am I going to make? This was a challenge set by Ben Jones to try a style I’ve not done before – a Weizenbock. I’ve had some success making a Bock before so in terms of recipe I just amended that and swapped out half the Pils malt for wheat malt then changed the yeast to try and get some big banana flavours. The recipe I’m following is as below.

Beer details – Challenge Accepted Weizenbock

OG 1055 FG 1013
ABV 5.6% IBU 12
Colour 20 EBC Brew size 20L

Mash ingredients

Ingredients Weight
Wheat Malt 2.5kg
Pilsen Malt 1.4kg
Munich malt 1.5kg
Special W (Weyermann) 0.1kg
Crystal malt 60L 0.18kg
Aromatic malt 0.28kg

Boil additions

Ingredients Weight Time
Hallertauer Hersbrucker 2.4%AA 51g 60min

Yeast

Type Lallemand Munich wheat beer yeast

If that’s what I’m going to make, how do I normally go about it? Firstly is preparation the day or so before. In this case I’m using a pack of dry yeast so no need to make a starter, from the fridge full of old collected yeast samples, but I do need to collect some water.

I use Old Windsor tap water – which as you’re probably well aware from the state of your kettle and shower head is remarkably hard. The water report for Windsor – here – shows the hardness around 300ppm and, more importantly for mashing, the Alkalinity at 240ppm. To ensure I get the pH around 5.4 once the grain has been mashed in I need to add some acid. I add about 12ml of 10% Phosphoric acid to 27L of tap water in an old plastic fermenter. I do this the day before in the hope that the water sitting and warming up in the house might lose some of the Chlorine added at the water works, but I’ve no idea if it does or not.

That’s the water quality – what about amount? This is where the first bit of kit is introduced. The electric mash tun / kettle. I do brew-in-a-bag (BIAB) so for water volume, in theory, you should just work backwards for how much wort you want to end up with, take off the losses of liquid you can’t get out of the mash tun, the trub you don’t want to transfer, the lost water as you boil off and the water absorbed by your grain husks. Then bung all that in at the beginning. However the mash tun is my capacity constraint. It holds 27L, but 3L of that is below the tap and is the cold break I generally leave behind. Then of course your grain takes up volume as well. 6kg of milled malted barley takes up 12L of volume dry. It obviously absorbs water so doesn’t need that much space in the mash tun, but I’ve more than once been close to overflowing when I mash in the grain to the water.

To remedy this I don’t add all the water into the mash. I dunk sparge the bag later with 5L of hot water – show you this later – and also add water back after the boil. So when working out the amount of grain I need I calculate the extract to hit my target OG before boiling. I then measure and dilute down the wort back to this gravity post-boil.

As you can see from the photo I’ve added some rudimentary insulation from an old camping foam Karrimat / exercise mat. As I brew outside in the shed this is necessary in the winter and helpful in the summer. It means I can heat the water to strike temperature then turn off the heating and avoid scorching the bottom of the mash tun and burning the bag or grain.

For this particular beer I’m using a low mash temperature 64℃ so I get the maximum conversion, with the thought that this won’t thin it out too much due to the gums in the Wheat malt. BeerSmith – the indispensable brewing app that I create all my recipes on – calculates your strike temperature and water requirement for each recipe. In this case it recommends 69℃ so I heat the water up and then mash in the grains.

One thing I didn’t mention is milling the grains. This I normally do using a drill attached to a hand mill while the water heats up to strike temperature.

Something to note with this recipe – Malted wheat mashes in really easily. There were no dough balls and the mash mixed in quickly and easily. As you can see BeerSmith got the strike temperature more or less right and the phosphoric acid did its trick with the pH.

I would imagine measuring pH at 65℃ is contentious. Measuring it at 20℃ or 25℃ would be normal lab procedure as pH changes depending on temperature. My meter isn’t so sophisticated that it compensates for temperature either. My thinking is that the optimum pH has been determined by looking at the kinetics of the amylase enzymes, this is generally accepted to be somewhere between 5.2 and 5.5. I don’t know the method used to determine this, and so have taken it to mean that the enzyme works best in this range regardless of temperature. I’m more than happy to be put right on this.

I generally mash for about an hour giving it a stir every now and again, when I get round to it, and checking the temperature’s not dropping too much. Today after half an hour it had dropped to 60℃ so I turned on the heat for a couple of minutes.

After the mash is complete I increase the temperature up to somewhere around 70-75℃.Then I use a Jerry-rigged pulley system, to a hook in the roof beam, to take the BIAB out of the mash tun and leave it to drip back into what is now a kettle heating up to 100℃ for the boil. At this stage I’m also checking on the efficiency as there’s still a small chance I can do something if it’s cocked up. I take a sample, to cool and measure the gravity, and determine the volume with a steel ruler to gauge the depth. In this case the gravity was 1066 and the volume was 20cm or 19L – ignoring thermal expansion of the liquid for now.  As you can see from the temperature photo the mash tun is very full. This is after me adding 22L of water and 5.6kg of grain. If I added no more water into the mix, after losses and boiling, I think I’d be fermenting about 13L of wort. To combat this I do a 5L dunk sparge, more to add volume than actually extract more sugars from the grist.

To do this I heat up 5 L of the acidified water to around 70℃ and dangerously swing the hot bag of mashings across into a big bucket. There I drop it in, add and mix the hot water and hoist it back over the kettle. One thing of note here is that boiling the acidified water causes it to become cloudy as the calcium comes out of solution.

This gives me another 5L of wort at 1038 that I can add back to the kettle so I finish with 24L of 1060 wort. This is great – I’m aiming for 1055 into the FV – so post boil it will allow me to add back quite a bit of volume.

By now the wort is boiling in the kettle and a little bit of hot break has always bubbled over and spilt on the floor. If I’m lucky it’s not scalded the dog.

For this brew I’m using fine German noble hops in the form of Hallertau Hersbrucker, but to be honest it’s really low BU, and there’s not supposed to be any hop flavour or aroma, so I’m beginning to wonder why I’m adding 50g of these when I could have added about 10g of Magnum? Too late now, the pack is open, and they’re tipped into the hop spider and plonked into the boiling wort to do their – in this case limited – magic.

Generally I’ll be boiling for an hour and, as it’s a hot day, it’s quite a vigorous boil. Brewing in winter has its own hurdles and I find it’s very difficult to maintain a rolling boil. This is why I first made the insulation which did help quite a bit but wasn’t perfect.

In terms of kettle additions this is very simple. No more hops to add, and as it’s a wheat beer it’s supposed to be cloudy, so I won’t be adding half a protofloc tablet to help it clear. I have, however, taken to adding a little yeast nutrient at the end of the boil. I don’t know if this is necessary but it hasn’t done any harm so far.

As the boil finishes, and I’ve added half a teaspoon of the Wyeast Beer nutrient blend, it’s time to cool. I pull out the hop spider and let the hops drip wort to the kettle (more as somewhere to put them as opposed to trying to eek out every last drop). I remove the insulation, sticky with boiled over wort from earlier. Often I have to peel it off the outside of the vessel. Then take a volume reading with the steel ruler – 22.5cm or 21.5L. The wort is hot so taking into account a 4% expansion of the liquid this means there is 20.7L of 1068 wort. I want 1055 so need to dilute with 5L of water to hit my target and leave me with a nice 26L of wort to ferment. Before that I’ve got to cool it and for that I use a length of coiled copper pipe. This is attached to the garden hose and immersed in the hot wort to run cold water through. Cooling takes no time in winter when the groundwater is at 11℃ but now it’s getting warmer the groundwater is 17.5℃ it may take a little while longer. I use temperature strips on the outside of the kettle to know when it’s lower than my fermentation temperature then I transfer it into the FV.

In terms of fermentation I had been reading up and found a lot of advice that in order to get a good banana flavour from the yeast you should aim on the high side of the recommended temperature. However I also found out that Lallemand makes two Munich yeast types: Munich and Munich Classic. The Classic version – not the one I have – is the more expressive one in terms of fruity esters and so I’ve made a bit of a balls up. Not to worry, hopefully this will still be a nice beer, just not what I had in mind. I’m still going to ferment at the top of the range to squeeze out what I can from the yeast so in this case that will be 22℃. This means I’ll cool the wort to below this before transferring across.

Transferring into the FV is very low tech for me. Just run the wort out of the kettle tap into a 5L sanitised measuring jug then tip into the vessel. I think this has two advantages; I don’t need to arrange everything so the kettle is higher, or involve a pump, to run through tubing and I don’t have to use tubing at all! I’m never convinced they’re clean. You can scour the inside of a jug – you can only flush through tubing or soak. It also allows me to add the dried yeast to the jug and splash the wort onto it. I’m not one for rehydrating the yeast beforehand – happy to chuck it into the mix and let it wake up when it does.

Well just as I thought it was all going so perfectly disaster struck. I poured the first jug of wort into the FV and it came straight out of the bottom. The Tilt (I’ll explain later) had jammed the valve open and so I was stuck like Hans Brinker with my thumb in the valve shouting for help. Got it sorted and cleaned up eventually and ended up with 21L pitched and fermenting at 22℃ and a couple of litres of sticky wort on the floor.

I have a love of gadgets and technology and this hobby allows me to indulge in both and get drunk too. As you see from the picture I have a Grainfather fermenter which both heats and cools. To cool I have a small Glycol tank stuck in my Keezer which the FV calls for and circulates through a jacket to control the fermenting beer’s temperature. I also make the FV wear an old down jacket (A Northface one I once had stolen off me by a tramp in Vienna) to insulate it from both heat and cold.

I mentioned previously the Tilt. This is an amazing piece of kit if you haven’t seen it before. It’s a wireless hydrometer that allows you to watch and plot your fermentation as it goes. For this beer you can watch this beer go by clicking on this link here.

So that’s it, that’s my set up and generally how I make my beer. I’d be interested on your thoughts and comments – any improvements or blindingly obvious steps or ideas I’m missing. Feel free to comment here on the website or head over to the Facebook group and let me know what you think there.

Cheers

Ian

Pre-season friendly

So the exciting inaugural meeting of WEHomebrew is fast approaching – 7pm at Windsor & Eton brewery on Wednesday 25th September, just rock up – and has the feel of the first game of the season. So with that in mind the Homebrew club is getting a pre-season friendly under its belt by representing at the Peckham Amateur beer festival. Brick brewery is hosting the competition admirably organised by London Amateur Brewers.

This is going to be a fantastic day out where myself and Ben Jones will be serving up our keg entry -Trevor Francis Tracksuit – hopefully it’s a quaffable creamy stout – come and tell us if we hit the mark.

Making it utilised Ben’s patented vacuum keg filling process – he’ll be happy to talk you through it and share his aliexpress link for the cheap kit to copy his set up.

Vacuum keg filling

Hope to see you there. Cheers.