Again it has been a little while since I posted but things keep getting busier and busier! I have continued to brew albeit in a reduced capacity and trying to allow the beers more time to condition. I have also been spending some of my free time doing volunteer work down at Wibblers Brewery in Essex, this has begun to improve my knowledge and practices tenfold and the resulting beers are starting to become living proof of my progress.
Whilst I haven’t made anything Ridley’s for since the last Mild, I have been experimenting a fair bit with Porters and a Milk Stout. The Stout turned out O.K. at best, but that is down to inexperience of brewing Stouts in general, I made one nearly 3 years ago!
However, I have been making good use of the Theakston wooden pin I picked up for Christmas, they are perfectly happy for me to keep and will also have the returns available for sale in February. The most recent beer to go into it was my first (?) attempt at the Durden Park 1850 Whitbread Porter, except, as usual, my mathematics let me down a bit and I got some of the amounts wrong, but, it should still be relatively close!
The main reason of this post was to share some of my learnings from the recent work I’ve been undertaking down the Brewery, here is some of that knowledge:
Finings: Whilst not really necessary in the home brewing environment, it is always worth having access to a source as if you decide to exhibit your beer at a festival or a competition, the level of clarity that they can offer is worth the effort. They need to be refrigerated and have a shelf life of around 4 weeks, be sure to find out when the expiry date is if using liquid Isinglass, dried Isinglass will last longer but is a pain to mix up, the newest alternative I have started exploring is Gelatin, I haven’t had a chance to use it yet but I will be sure to post my findings.
Sanitisers: There are plenty of these knocking about on the market, but, not everyone is aware there is a better alternative to StarSan. As much as most would love access to Peracetic Acid, it is difficult to keep in the home, it requires somewhere that is cool and well ventilated at all times as the container lid is designed to vent off the excess gasses to stop the container swelling. It must also be diluted and keeping a container of undiluted Peracetic in the home is asking for trouble!
The best alternative I have used is Videne, it costs around £11 from Boots for a 500ml bottle but it will last you ages, it is the Iodine based antiseptic stuff that surgeons use to sterilise themselves, at a diluted ratio it makes an excellent no rinse sanitiser, If I recall, it is 1.25ml/l to dilute and as long as it is kept away from the sun, it will last a week or two (it will stain the container).
Recipes: When making beer at home, we can make beer anyway we like as it is just for us, however, having an understanding of how the big boys do it does help, it gives you a better understanding of getting the balances in flavour right for the beer you are trying to create, It is also good to enquire about the water chemistry of the beers to see what you should be aiming for in relation to your local water and your own brewing.
Understanding even the most basic water things and how to put your recipes together with the knowledge of what each individual ingredient contributes will infinitely improve your beer.
Sanitation: There really is no cutting corners on this one, sanitation is paramount! If you think it’s clean, clean it again, it is one thing to lose a single brew, yet alone 2 or 3, but to lose 14 barrels worth of beer is not an option, having the opportunity to experience this thought first hand put it in perspective of just how sloppy my sanitation regime had become, no wonder I was having trouble keeping things healthy!
Yeast: Liquid or Brewery yeast is King, if you have a local brewery, don’t be afraid to ask them for some yeast, it will be fresh and healthy, most of them are washed every so often, top cropped or renewed from a single cell, cropping and storage is relatively simple contrary to what people say!
It is best to be used within 4 days, 5 at most, any longer than this and it will need to be grown and harvested. Use a good size airtight container and keep it at around 2 to 3 degrees if possible. Local yeast is very well established to your local water and will give you a much better result that any Wyeast, Whitelab or Dried yeast will.
Hops: A lot of hops have already been contracted for the 2015 harvest and home brewing supplies will be limited, however, consider looking for your desired hops in Pellet form as they are sometimes still available, for some reason tradition is still playing a part in using Leaf hops for everything, I recently however went exclusively Pellet, these enable me to recirculate during chilling, have a smaller storage consumption and a longer shelf life.
Pellet hops haven’t got the same variety as Leaf hops at the moment but I suspect that will change as demands increase. Always worth considering an alternative when looking for hops. I did and never looked back.
I hope this has been of some (if any) use to people reading, as things settle down in due time I shall return to posting some more of my findings on tests and things as I find them out. It is a fascinating journey really getting into the depths of brewing but your beer will thank you for it, as a sideline I have been doing reviews for home brewers I know, if you wish to send me a bottle and have one done, I’m more than happy to oblige, just drop me a message.
Until next time, Cheers!