Two Out of Three Ain't Bad

Notes from brew days #14, #15 & #16
Blog: Brewshido
Categories: 6-minute read

Two out of three ain’t bad..

.. but the third was excellent!

After a semi-successful run of 80/- beers in an attempt to develop the base for my first future commercial beer, I have moved on to the study of hops. In order to best study the contributions of the humulus lupulus I’ve been brewing a small run of SMaSH IPA beers, which are brewed with a single malted barley grain bill and a single hop. I’ve stuck to the same yeast for each of the brews but I did swap to an extra pale ale maris otter malt for the third brew, from very slightly darker pale ale malt.

Again, like in previous brews, due to the length of time it takes for a beer to be brewed and conditioned, along with the frequency of my brew days (approximately every two weeks), I can’t directly apply lessons learned from the previous brew day to the next one. As such, in the case of these three beers, the third beer benefited from lessons learned from the first brew (although the first beer hadn’t yet been carbonated or conditioned by then).

Each of the pretty straight-forward brew days went smoothly but the first two beers were somewhat underwhelming, drinkable but with very muted aroma and flavour profiles. I quickly realised that I had made somewhat of an error of judgement in the first two brews, which I’ll explain in the moment, and made a correction for the third day which was a game changer.

The realisation dawned on me when I was thinking about tea bags, particularly the pyramid bags that my in-laws use to package their tea in. For the first few brews and for several previous brews, I had been using muslin bags to place the hops in for each of the additions, but unlike in the case of a tea bag where there the leaves are loose and there is a lot of space within the bag for them to move around, I had packed the muslin bags pretty tightly, so that they wouldn’t open (I was using very small bags) mid-boil. As a result, I think that there wasn’t enough surface contact with the hop pellets and they weren’t able to properly breakdown and emit their goodnesss in to the wort. On the third brew day I reverted to using a hop spider which allows the hops to move freely but captures (most of) the spent hops (trub) so that they don’t make their way into the fermenter. My suspicions were correct and the third beer was in no way muted.


For each of the brews I used 4kg of maris otter malted barley, pale ale for the first two and extra pale ale for the third. I opted for extra pale ale for a little more of a neutral flavour impact from the grains and to accentuate the hop contribution.

I used White Labs WLP001 California Ale yeast for each of the brews as it is a reasonably neutral yeast with regards to its own flavour impact and is good for light and crisp ales.

In each of the brews I used 100g of the selected hop for the day. 20g at the start of the boil, 40g with 15 minutes left in the boil and another 40g at flameout, once the wort had chilled to 79°C.

Brew day 1: Motueka was the hop of choice and is one that I’ll revisit. I chose this because I have enjoyed a number of New Zealand beers over the past few years and for some reason it is the one hop that stuck in my mind from reading the cans. It is an aroma/flavour hop with low alpha acid content (~7%)which means that it isn’t often used for bittering. According to ‘The Love of Hops’ by Stan Hieronymous (2012), Motueka imparts a citrusy flavour, most notably lemon and lime as well as tropical fruits. My muted version has a sort of dull tropical fruit feel to it but not prevalent enough to identify.

Brew day 2: I chose Challenger for its noted aroma and flavour contributions (wood and green tea according to James Morton (2016)) with an eye on future tea based beers. Again, it is a low alpha acid hop which will likely be important as tea may impart some bitterness, depending on the type and timing of its addition. Stan Heironymus (2012) mentions that this hop was embraced by English brewing company Bass and is noted for its fruity and spicy qualities. As per above, my use of muslin bags has resulted in an underwhelming, muted but drinkable, if not exactly enjoyable beer.

Brew day 3: Citra! A very popular hop for homebrewers and commercial brewers alike, famed for its dual purpose utility, in that whilst it is a reasonably high alpha acid hop (12%) and is therefore great for bittering, it also imparts a very crisp, citrus fruity flavour which in my beer, I perceive as grapefruit*. Mr Heironymus (2012) has the hop as being “rich in passion fruit, lychee, peah, gooseberries, and a laundry list of other unusual (for hops) flavours”. This beer is probably the cleanest, crispest and best brewed beer that I’ve made so far. It isn’t exactly complex but there is zero oxidation and it drinks beautifully. I’m very, very happy with this and will be pouring myself one as soon as today’s SMaSH brew is over (Amarillo).

This was also the first brew which I used my new Plaato valves which prevent an issue that brewers can experience when cold crashing, called suckback, and my first attempt at cold-crashing. The glycol chiller that I have is only capable of chilling down to 4°C and struggles to maintain that, so the temperature fluctuated a bit between 4-6°C. In a commercial brewery, you’d probably be aiming for around or slightly below 0°C but despite this, there was some improvement in haze reduction and final beer clarity. I’m happy with this first experiment.

*Segue: I recently learned that whilst we all have around 1000 olfactory receptors which sit behind our noses and are activated in unique combinations which may invoke memories or pre-conceived flavour profile, before building a flavour perception in our brains. However, we each have only around 360 of these receptors active, and they are not the same 350 receptors for everyone so we genuinely perceive flavour and aroma differently. This is why you can read a wine, beer or whisky (or anything consumable) flavour profile and be entirely bewildered after tasting as to how anyone could have arrived at those descriptors (Heironymus 2012). It isn’t ALWAYS pretentiousness!

I took a break after this mini-series to brew a beer by Siren brewing, which I’ll write about next time, there were an abundance of tiny mistakes, my head was not in the game, and though I’ve yet to taste it, I don’t have high expectations.

References:

Heironymus, S. (2012). For the Love of Hops - The Practical Guide to Aroma, Bitterness and the Culture of Hops. 1st edn. Boulder: Brewers Publication.
Morton, J. (2016). BREW. The foolproof guide to making world-class beer at home. 1st edn. London: Quadrile Publishing.


Quarter to 80

Notes from brew day #13
Blog: Brewshido
Categories: 3-minute read

The last brew of the first quarter of 2021, and the final attempt at an 80 shilling base beer, for now at least.

For my previous brew I used some small quantities of left over grains from the brew before that, and adapted some previously brewed 80/- recipes to create my very first original recipe. However, in order to reduce the number of small volumes of differing grains that I would need to use, I attempted to refine the recipe for this brew.


The last beer is still conditioning so I still don’t as of yet know exactly how it will taste but my gut feeling from sampling and smelling the wort at different stages of fermentation is that it won’t quite manage the level of sweetness that I am looking for in order to compensate for the bitterness when I introduce roasted green tea to the recipe later in the year. In order to try and improve on this as well as refining the recipe I also reduced the mash time by 5 minutes in order to try and retain some (but not a lot) of non-fermentable complex sugars.

As well as the Melanoidin malts which I introduced in the brevious brew, I also added some DRC malt - which is a double roasted crystal malt, it apparently contributes a caramel raisin flavour without the associated bitter astringency of some darker malts. I have a reasonably clear idea of how I want my eventual 80/- x roasted green tea beer to taste and I think the DRC malt will help achieve this, I will probably also introduce some orange rind when I come to experiment with tea, presuming I have a base beer to work with.

Last time I accidentally omitted Sorachi Ace from the recipe and used Magnum, this time I rejigged the hop additions and made First Golding the primary hop with some Sorachi Ace addition at flame-out for the “vanilla, tea and coriander notes” that it allegedly imparts, hopefully with such a late addition, I’ll avoid the intense lemon flavour associated with the hop when used for bittering.

Again as per last brew, no dry hopping, this is ostensibly a malty beer.

My usual yeast (White Labs WLP029 - Edinburgh Ale) was out of stock! So I had to choose between a Dusseldorf Alt or Irish Ale style yeast.. The profile of the latter was closest to the Edinburgh Ale yeast so I opted for that.. and hey, many Scots such as myself have Irish heritage so the beer is still authentic ;) .. actually on that, Williams Bros use Nottingham Ale yeast for their 80/- so..

I will create a recipe template for the site and post the recipe details, stages and notes at a later date.

The original (standard) gravity on this beer after transferring to the fermentation vessel was 1.048.. I’d like it to retain some sweetness and as such I’m not really sure of a target final gravity, I’ll just take what I get really.. I expect the ABV will be around 4.5% but we’ll see.

As mentioned above, I still haven’t tasted my first original recipe beer so trying to refine the recipe is a bit bold.. Only about 4 weeks left until I get to taste it and see if my efforts were worthwhile!


Mair 80 Bobbin

Notes from brew day #12
Blog: Brewshido
Categories: 4-minute read
Tags:

What’s this? A brew day blog post on the actual brew day? My, aren’t we organised!

With reference to the title, ‘mair’ is Scots for ‘more’ and colloquially a shilling was called a bob back in the day, with the Scottish beers being often referred to as 70 bob or 80 bob etc.

As a result of having some excess grains and hops from my previous brew , today’s beer will be unique and I guess this was my first attempt to design my own recipe. It wasn’t merely a matter of ordering less grains and swapping in those I had in store, though that was part of it! I actually made some conscious decisions on grain choice with respect to my brew day plan.


My previous 80/- brew day had a 50 minute mash, which if I understand correctly results in a sweeter beer as there is a smaller window for the amylase enzymes to break down complex sugars into mono- or di-saccharides which can be consumed by yeast. The result would be a lower alcohol beer as there is less ethanol converted and due to a higher amount of residual sugars a richer mouthfeel and sweeter beer. At least this is my understanding. However, I want to provide as much nutrition to the yeast as possible, to exhaust it before conditioning and I think the 50 minute mash, or at least my management of it led to an excess in active, hungry yeast in the resultant beer, or at least at the bottom of the keg of said beer.

So, I went with the more familiar 60 minute mash but I still want this beer to be reasonably sweet, for future addition of a slightly bitter adjunct, and as such I opted to include Melanoidin malts, 10% of the grain bill. The blurb on the brewstore website states that if this ratio of aromatic (melanoidin) are added it can add a honey-like flavour to the beer.. Sounds good to me and should hopefully make up for the lower volume of residual sugars in my beer, to some extent.

With regards to the hops I have (Magnum, First Golding and Sorachi Ace), I did a bit of reading about their bittering and flavour profiles and decided to include both Magnum and First Golding.

  • Sorachi Ace if used for bittering can lead to a an intense lemon flavour but for flavouring it can bring vanilla, tea & coriander notes, these both sound great but I mis-remembered and thought that these weren’t all suitable for this beer. I intended to use them towards the end of the boil initially.
  • First Golding is a very commonly used hop for this style of beer, its bittering contribution provides a refreshing crisp finish and when used for flavouring can bring orange, marmalade and soft spices to the beer. Both sound good, I’ve gone with this as my primary bittering hop and added some at the end for flavour.
  • Lastly Magnum, a hop with high alpha acid content which is very popular for bittering IPAs, Pils etc. (In Europe anyway). Though it isn’t used much as a flavouring hop, it apparently can impart subtle spice aromas, like nutmeg and this holds interest to me. As such, I’m going with some Magnum mid-boil so that it’s bittering contribution is there but restrained and some in the last 10 minutes with a hope that it subtly adds a little complexity to the flavour.

On double checking the qualities of the hops, I actually did mean to use some sorachi ace.. oh well, plenty left for next time.

No dry hopping, this is ostensibly a malty beer.

For yeast, mainly due to limited alternative stocks at the brewstore , I’ve gone with WLP029 - Edinburgh Ale. It’s the same yeast used for the previous 80 shilling brews and it makes sense to have some part of each brew to remain uniform.

I will create a recipe template for the site and post the recipe details, stages and notes at a later date.

The original gravity of the beer on transfer to the fermentation vessel was 1.050 which is a bit higher than the other export beers that I’ve brewed which signifies a higher sugar content, so long as the yeast activity is fervent this should result in a slightly stronger beer, I’m hoping for the 5% ABV area which would make my final gravity target around 1.012.. but I’ll be happy with around 1.015ish, I guess. In addition, the beer looked very clear, was a gorgeous colour and smelled great.

It remains to be seen if my experimenting results in a tasty beer, but given this is my first attempt at my own recipe and will be tweaked going forward, so long as it isn’t bad it’s all good!

I am going to have to change beer types soon though as I am running out of 80 shilling based puns for blog titles! Let’s face it, in that regard, I’m never going to top 80 chillin !


Alice Porteresque

Notes from brew day #11
Blog: Brewshido
Categories: 4-minute read
Tags:

I departed from my current series of Scottish export type ales to make another dark beer for my birthday, or rather the brew day was for my birthday the actual beer is still a few weeks away. I opted for one of Brewdog’s recipes which they have open-sourced for several years, all publicly available for free as in pdf format, or on their website or for a small fee as a hardback book. As this is an published and open-sourced recipe and not part of copyrighted recipe book I can actually post the details for a change! Brewdog has a lot of critics, but I’m not one of them, I enjoy a number of their beers and commend their efforts towards sustainability . I am not however associated with Brewdog or in any way a Brewdog fanboi, unless James discovers this page and hey! I’d really love to come and see your brewery!

Another departure I made was that I ordered the ingredients of this brew from The Malt Miller rather than The Brewstore as the recipe calls for specific grains, yeast and hops that were unfortunately not available from my preferred, more local, supplier. I initially tried to find alternatives for each of the grains but it soon became clear that I was moving further and further from replicating the Brewdog version of the beer that I just had to look elsewhere. I was very pleased with the delivery and service from The Malt Miller and my only criticism is that I had to order larger quantities of grains than required as they don’t offer the smaller increments that The Brewstore does, opting for 50g implements rather than 10g. I also had to buy 100g hops packets even if only 5g of hops were required but hey ho, the excess will not go to waste!


On to the Brew day! The full recipe can be found here and the ingredients for a 20L brew were as follows:

Malts:

  • 2.63kg of Extra Pale
  • 0.88kg of Munich
  • 0.38kg of Crystal 150
  • 0.31kg of Special W - which I couldn’t find so replaced with Dark Crystal
  • 0.44kg of Carafa Special Type 1
  • 0.38kg of Flaked Oats - Which were unavailable so I used torrified Oats
  • 0.31kg of Torrified Wheat

Hops:

  • 5g of Magnum at the start (Bitter) - only 5 grams of bittering hops.. presumably this recipe was designed at higher volume and this is a scale down, but maybe not shrug.
  • 25g of First Gold in the middle (Flavour) - had to somewhat guess here, my understanding is that if the hops were added in the middle (30m) they would be roughly 50% bittering and 50% flavour, so I opted for 25 minutes before the end of the boil.
  • 25g of First Gold at the end (Flavour) - It isn’t uncommon to add hops at 0 minutes left but I read that end could mean anywhere from 15 minutes left to 0, so I opted for 5 minutes until end of the boil for this addition.
  • 25g of Sorachi Ace at the end (Flavour) - same as above.

Yeast:

  • Wyeast 1056 - American Ale - This was the first time that I used Wyeast and it was a smack-pack, where you smack the .. pack.. to burst the liquid yeast sachet, introducing it to a solution which activates and nourishes it before pitching into the fermenter. Pretty neat!

Not really much to say about the day itself, it went to plan without any drama, it was very enjoyable and followed by popcorn and movie day with my daughter, a good day all round.

Whilst I haven’t yet transferred the beer from fermenter to keg and therefore don’t have an actual FINAL gravity reading, it has been stable for the past few measurements.. the scores on the board (I do care this time!) are:

Brewdog Alice Porter Original Gravity: 1.053
Jon’s Alice Porteresque Original Gravity: 1.053 - booyah!

Brewdog Alice Porter Final Gravity: 1.013
Jon’s Alice Porteresque Final(ish) Gravity: 1.012 - やった!

Brewdog Alice Porter ABV: 5.2%
Jon’s Alice Porteresque ABV: 5.3%

I’ve no idea how close to the original this is going to be once it has finished its journey but {your deity of choice or not} on a bike I am looking forward to tasting it!


FitoTrack Is Good

A privacy-focussed, free and open source fitness tracker
Blog: Whitabootery
Categories: 2-minute read
Tags:

Yesterday, for the first time in many years (almost a decade), I took an hour long lunch break, during which, again for the first time in many years (much less than a decade though) I went out for a bike ride. It was suprisingly a beautiful, if not slightly cold day which definitely helped me start this new and hopefully lasting exercise routine.

Today, it is basically a storm outside with very strong wind and much rain but as I noted on a social media site (distributed, federated, free and open source obviously), “Bit of a dreich day for my 2nd lunchtime bike ride.. but I am of rain, I was born in Scotland, dreich is my daily driver, a wee bit of rain and wind won’t stop me… Only my resistant legs can do that! 33 minutes more of this psyching up to go." and psych me up it did, I completed a revised circuit and though I considered doing a second circuit (as I intend to progress to soon), I figured that it would be better to stop after one so that I can cycle again tomorrow, rather than push through and encourage the jellification of my legs.

In the same update I also said that I’m “Going to give FitoTrack a go today.", which is a free and open source fitness tracker app with lots of stats, devoid of any data harvesting or adverts, that enables me to track and monitor my progress in much the same way as you might expect of a similar, commercial app tied and bound eternally to a google data centre. The GPS seemed to be reasonably accurate though admittedly not 100%, I seem to recall my garmin watch being of an equivalent level of accuracy and you are able to export your workouts as GPX files or share to whichever apps you have installed on your phone that you may wish to share to, in the form of a png image file. On this point, I have raised a feature support ticket requesting an option to choose the size and file format of the shared file as it is quite large.

If this sounds like something you might like then you can find the FitoTrack app on F-Droid - or other non-ethical purveyors of apps which I’ll not link to here, alternatively you can download the source from their codeberg page .

Today’s FitoTrack workout summary with the map provided by OpenStreetMap contributors


80 Chillin

Notes from brew day #10
Blog: Brewshido
Categories: 4-minute read
Tags:

TLDR: This brew day was successful, in that at the end of it wort was transferred to my conical fermenter. As of yet, some weeks later it is not ready for drinking testament to which is that I just suffered a weekend of yeast eating all available mono-saccharides they could find within in my gut.

The grain bill for my tenth foray into homebrewing was taken from Craft Brew by Euan Ferguson and is more or less identical to that of William Bros ‘s 80/- recipe included in the book. William Bros are a craft brewery from Alloa , home of my aunt and also a town with a brewing heritage and one that I, for some reason, associate with 80 shilling.

The hops were Goldings 5.2% (the percentage being an indication of alpha acid volumes) and the yeast was White Labs Edinburgh Scottish Ale Yeast (WLP028).

What was notable about this recipe were the lack of volumes for water and wort at the various stages and any indicative suggested method to follow. As such, I crafted a brew day plan based on previous brews and hope that it works out.


In absolute contrast to the previous attempt at this beer, this brew day was almost flawless. After the Grainfather blocked pipe incident that sabotaged my previous brew, I took to the net to find a solution and found that Grainfather themselves had admitted this flaw exists and created a filter basket which sits at the top of the mash tun above the upper filter plate and catches errant grains before they reach the circulation pipe.. at least in theory. In practice, this only works if you are brewing a beer with sufficient enough a grain bill to allow the upper plate to sit high enough for the walls of the new filter basket to sit higher than the height of the circulation pipe inlet at its lowest setting.. this was not the case in this brew and I had to spend 47 of the 50 minutes holding the basket in place, with my fingers millimetres above the 71°C wort being circulated below. It seems to me that a far more useful solution to the issue would have been for the basket to be welded to the removable circulation pipe inlet hence ensuring the basket cannot fall below the height of the inlet itself. As mentioned in the previous blog post, looking into this a bit more to see if I could fashion this solution, instructed me that this needs a brazing specialist and is not really a viable option during lockdown.

Me holding a filter basket in place during the mash

Aside from this, the brew day was good. This was the first brew which I’ve done that mandates a 50 minute mash, previously this has always been at least 60 minutes. The purpose of the shorter mash is presumably to allow for a sweeter wort and resultantly a sweeter beer as the amylase enzymes have less time to breakdown the non-fermentable polysaccharides, so a greater volume of these are transferred to the fermentation vessel and as the yeast cannae eat them, into the beer. As I am trying to work towards a reasonably sweet brown ale for a future recipe idea, I was happy to give this a go.

The nominal O(riginal)G(ravity) target for this beer (it was a bit of a hybrid but taking the gravity targets from the William Bros recipe) was 1.048 S(tandard)G and I hit 1.043 which is a little further from that target than I would normally hit if following the recipe verbatim, but the focus of these series of beers is the impact of the grain on the colour and flavour of the beer so hitting gravity targets is an added bonus, if it happens. The F(inal)G of the William Bros beer was 1.012 with an ABV of 4.2%, the FG of my beer after two weeks in the fermenter was 1.018 which would be disappointingly high if I cared, but I don’t.. honest.. and results in an ABV of 3.9%.

The current status of the beer has been impacted a little by my kegerator finagling (replacing spar and clasp connections with John Guest connections, replacing gas regulator and trying to eliminate the gas leak that I previously found) and so doesn’t seem to have carbonated effectively with the two weeks of conditioning, it’s back on the gas feed and I’m giving it another week or two. I do NOT want to ingest more live yeast from this beer! On the plus side, the aroma is excellent, it has a treacle-like richness to it that I hope is reflected in the final beer, whenever it decides that it is ready!

I am about to keg my latest beer from my eleventh brew day and hope to cold crash it if I can convince my beer fridge to run at close to or below 0°C, I’ll condition it first to try and avoid any oxidation, finger’s crossed that it works!

The Grainfather blue LED panel displaying current temperature whilst it heats the strike water

A close up of some small kernel unmilled oats

A close up of mixed malted barley prior to mash in


End of the Beginning

Notes from brew day #9
Blog: Brewshido
Categories: 4-minute read
Tags:

TLDR: This will be a short post as my first brew day of the year was sabotaged by a blocked pipe! However, given that this site is primarily a journal of my brewing experiences and lessons it would be amiss of me to exclude it.

The grain bill for my ninth foray into homebrewing was taken from Craft Brew by Euan Ferguson and is more or less identical to that of William Bros ‘s 80/- recipe included in the book. William Bros are a craft brewery from Alloa , home of my aunt and also a town with a brewing heritage and one that I, for some reason, associate with 80 shilling.

The hops were Goldings 5.2% (the percentage being an indication of alpha acid volumes) and the yeast was (unused but would have been) White Labs Edinburgh Scottish Ale Yeast (WLP028).

What was notable about this recipe were the lack of volumes for water and wort at the various stages and any indicative suggested method to follow. As such, I crafted a brew day plan based on previous brews and hope that it works out.


The brew day was a little less organised than usual but went reasonably smoothly until post-boil when it came time to rapidly cool the wort before transferal into the conical fermenter. The metal circulation pipe on the grainfather got blocked by wayward grains and therefore wasn’t pushing the boiling hot wort through the counterflow chiller, also as the pipe contained boiling hot wort and I don’t have heat resistant gloves, I was unable to try to investigate and fix until the wort cooled to a more reasonable temperature. It took several hours for the wort to cool by which time I had struck the day off as spoiled. If you let wort cool naturally then it massively increases the risk of dimethyl sulfide formation which would have resulted in a very unpleasant beer.

In the heat of frustration, I had decided that after a string of issues with the Grainfather that I was going to immediately replace it. However, once I had naturally cooled down over a period of some hours, I thought better of spending several hundreds of £s for a replacement. As it happens, the grain creep into the pipes is a known issue and after customer feedback to that effect a new filter was created which should help control this. It was £16 so I bought it. This should stop overflow grains getting into the mash pipe and into the wort at the bottom of the mash tun, which should reduce the amount of grains making it into the circulation pipe (though given I had to hold it in place for the duration of the 50 minute mash during brew day #10, I feel perhaps it might have been designed a little better - apparently correcting this flaw will require a brazing specialist so £16 is potentially only the start!).

However, there is an additional point of risk. The inner sleeve\grain basket of the unit has a gap between it and the mash tun (which it needs) and if pouring grains in from a wide receptacle (such as a big soup pot) then there is a risk that some grains will fall between the sleeve and the walls of the mash tun into the wort at the bottom and be sent to the recirculation pipe. The additional filter should catch these during mash though. I have (mid-mash on brew #10) adapted my process to transfer the grains using a small 500ml jug from pot to tun. I also need to order heat-resistant gloves as a back up.

Anyway - as I wrote the draft of this post (as always) I was brewing again, same recipe as above but with a clear pipe, a new tentatively positioned filter, a more organised start and due care during the mash in stage. Fingers crossed!


Export From 2020

Notes from brew day #8
Blog: Brewshido
Categories: 5-minute read
Tags:

Intro

For my final brew of 2020 and my first foray into brewing from recipe books as opposed to pre-measured and packaged kits, I opted for a Scottish export style beer, loosely an 80/- (shilling) style. Whilst I knew before I made the choice that I did not have the correct gas for conditioning this beer style - it prefers a CO2-Nitrogen mix and I only have CO2 - I opted for this beer style as a non-complex malty departure from stouts.

As the focus of this and future brews will be on learning the different flavour influences of the ingredients of beer and not so much on process, then I’ll ditch the template I had been using in previous posts for a looser, more flavour focused form.

I suspect that as I’m learning from recipes in copyrighted books, I’ll not be able to share exact details of the recipes but we’ll see how it goes.


..brew time!

The recipe that I followed was “Scottish Export” from BREW by James Morton .

The first challenge of this brew was that I was unable to order the precise ingredients listed in the recipe. So I turned to an online resource, brewing grain substitution chart , for suggestions on replacements. A very basic but very handy reference spreadsheet for common grain alternatives.

I swapped out the Maris Otter, which is the base malt and makes up the bulk of the grain bill, for Golden Promise Finest Pale Ale, the Special B malt for Dark Crystal and the Pale Crystal malt for Light Crystal. The additional flavour malts were Amber and Chocolate.

The grain bill was ~4kg and each of the grains were measured in the following percentages of that total:

Grain % of total bill
Golden Promise 85%
Light Crystal 5%
Dark Crystal 5%
Amber 2.5%
Chocolate 2.5%

I had to also source a different hop as the suggested East Kent Goldings was out of stock, I had been assured by the recipe preamble that the hop choice wasn’t overly significant so I opted for Williamette, having never before heard of it (though this is a questionable reason for the choice).

The yeast was White Labs WLP028 - Edinburgh Scottish Ale Yeast.

I also used Irish Moss, for the first time, as a process aid - it to clarify the beer by enhancing the removal of some proteins that can otherwise contribute to haze formation.

As always, all ingredients were sourced from the Brewstore in Edinburgh.

The hope was for a malty, very lightly hopped brown ale which can be adapted and made my own in future brews. As this was the first attempt, I wasn’t expecting perfection just something I can work with as a base for furthering my understanding of the influence of the grains.


The brew day was very straightforward, it was an easy recipe to follow and everything went smoothly.


The beer

The resulting beer is drinkable but not overly enjoyable, it’s a bit reminiscent of how I remember this style of beer tasting in the 80’s but I had hoped for a little more of an exciting tipple (photo to be added once I have CO2 again to pour one).

The biggest disappointment is that there is very little head retention. This cannot be attributed to the non-preferred gas being used for conditioning, head retention is related to proteins and dextrose and it seems there was some deficiency there in the final beer. It is possible that the beer required more conditioning time before being poured, I left it for 2 weeks in a ~5°C kegerator, unfortunately I don’t really have anywhere to properly condition the beer at a stable, ideal temperature of 12°C, still perhaps it could have been conditioned for longer.

It is also possible that the replacement grains that I chose lacked the desirable properties of those in the recipe and that some adjustment might be required in order to protect the foam retention properties of the beer, for example, adding oats or wheat malts, or a greater proportion of crystal malts (though the latter seems unlikely given they already made up ~10% of the grain bill).

However, it is most likely that the addition of Irish Moss removed too much protein from the wort resulting in a poorer head retention. It used half a protofloc tablet for a 20L brew, but it seems like that measure is recommended for a 25L brew and as such this is likely the main culprit.

That said, as a first step in a learning process, I’m happy enough with it, we’ll drink it ;)


Next

Plans for next beer - change up the grain bill and adjust irish moss measurement!

I found the recipe for Williams Bros Brewing Co. 80/- and have modified my grain bill based on it. I haven’t changed the yeast to match theirs, nor am I using the mix of hops that they are using, I will stick to a singular malt with few additions to simplify the process. The grain bill contains oats and malted wheat so hopefully the next beer will retain its foam for longer than the current one.


Photos

Plastic bags containing various malted grains, colours ranging from pail beige to dark brown - too much plastic! Golden Promise pale ale malted barley grains in a stainless steel pot Amber malted barley grains in a stainless steel pot Light and dark crystal malted barley grains side by side, light beige on left, dark brown on right, in stainless steel pot A small collection of dried, green Williamette hop pellets in a small, brown bamboo bowl A close up of a hydrometer measuring gravity of a brown beer with some chrome bar taps in the background A very clear brown beer in a sample container with a white kettle and black tiles in the background


Plans for 2021

The future is calling, there is work to be done!
Blog: Whitabootery
Categories: 9-minute read

Back in January 2020, I wrote a blog post about plans for the upcoming year . The other day I was reading through the post and wrote a reflective review of progress made during the past year. This was a pretty satisfying process for me, so I figured that I would do the same for 2021 in the hopes that when I review progress at the end of the year, I’ll be even more satisfied.

The overarching goal for the year is similar to last year, progress towards becoming a brewer and preparation for applying for the Hidaka village kyouryokutai (協力隊) scheme with a view to moving to the village once we’ve wrapped up the house sale and other loose ends here.

During the past year, we’ve been evolving and re-prioritising plans for future projects in Japan should our application be successful and the focus from a career point of view will be in the realm of craft brewing, putting food-related plans on the backburner for future attention. With that in mind and reflecting on the progress made during 2020, the following are my plans & goals for 2021.

Brew more regularly

I managed 7 out of a planned 12 brews during 2020, and many lessons were learned during each brew. Following great advice from a new craft brewer contact in Japan, I will be focussing on brewing more frequently as I need to make the focus shift from learning to beer design. I am hoping to brew a new beer every 3-4 weeks. If I can crank out 15 beers this year, I’ll be delighted.

My final beer of 2020 is currently conditioning in its keg and is a Scottish export (80 shilling) style. I intend to brew a few more similar beers but each time adjusting the balance of grains, in order to further my understanding of the influence of different types of malts. I also want to introduce oats into the recipe because oats are fucking great in beer!

After my brief experiment with brown ales, I am intending on focussing single malt, single hop (SMaSH) brews during which I’ll use the same malt but change up the hops for each brew. I hope to really gain a greater understanding of both the different flavour contributions and bittering qualities of each distinct hop. There are a huge number of hops available so I’ll need to be selective as I aim to have completed this run of beers by around the middle of the year.

After these two experiments, I’ll move on to attempting to design the three beers that I have in mind for my main lines in my future brewery. I don’t expect to be able to master or finalise these designs this year but I hope to produce some tasty, if unpolished, beers of my own design during the second half of the year.

As my new friend explained, there will likely not be the opportunity to brew again in Japan once we move until I either find a job working at a brewery or I establish my own brewery as Japanese homebrewing laws are very restrictive.

Establish brewing network in Japan

In December last year, I wrote an 8 page letter to a brewer in Japan (Ken Mukai of Mukai Craft Brewing ) in order to congratulate him on opening his brewery and to introduce myself as a hopeful future collaborator (and friend!). I was pretty nervous about this if truth be told, but the letter was well received and coincidentally a mutual friend had been talking to Ken about me the day before the letter arrived! In an email response, Ken provided me with some really useful information and advice and key amongst these was the suggestion to reach out to other brewers as well and tell them my story and plans. So, I will!

This is going to be a challenge as I’ll need to really un-rust my Japanese in order to contact the majority of brewers, there are some other non-natives who I’ll be able to more easily communicate with but I need to improve my Japanese anyway and this is a great opportunity to do so!

In addition, there is a new resident of Hidaka village who joined under the same kyouryokutai scheme as I intend to apply to, his business plan is also to create a craft brewery in our small town. Far from considering this as a potential threat to our own plans, I hope to engage with our future neighbour and help in any way that I can to collaborate with and ensure the success of his brewery.

Reaching out to strangers like this is pretty daunting for me but it’s one of the few steps we can take whilst not in Japan to help with our future plans.

Experience breweries in Scotland

Once the covid-19 situation calms down and is hopefully eliminated, I intend also to reach out to some breweries in Scotland with a view to visiting and hopefully witnessing or assisting in a brew. I have a reasonable relationship with my favourite brewer up in the north east of Scotland (no not that one), and though the specifics might need to be negotiated, they are very open to a brewery visit once things calm down.

I also have a friend of a close friend who has his own brewery in East Lothian and who is apparently also very open to a visit and for me to ask any questions I can think of.

I’ve previously visited Stewart Brewing in Loanhead in Edinburgh on one of their craft kitchen brew day experiences, and I believe they have pretty close ties to my university so I may be able to arrange an active site visit there too.

Also, at previous craft beer festivals I’ve briefly spoken with the owner of the Alechemy brewery here in my town and he was pretty open to a visit too, so I’ll need to get in contact with him.

There may be other breweries who I can speak with, such as Barney’s or Pilot in Edinburgh who I’ve had friendly conversations with in the past but this is all dependent on lockdown restrictions being lifted and covid-19 being “under control”.

Continue studying the science of brewing

I have so far completed one semester of my MSc in Brewing & Distilling programme and am very happy with how it went. My next course which is focussed on maturation, barrel aging, filtration and packaging starts on Monday 4th of January and I am excited to get started again.

My second semester course will either be on malting, grains and mashing or yeast and fermentation, I’m not sure which I’ll opt for first as I need to do both but either will be really interesting and these are the two courses that I’m most excited about.

In between semesters, I hope to find time to enhance my understanding of topics I studied in my first course, such as microbial spoilage and cleaning-in-place with a view to researching brewery design to take the first steps in investigating options for my future eco-friendly, sustainable craft brewery.

The year ahead looks really interesting in this sphere, I will only have one course left to complete (as I’m only doing the brewing specific courses for a postgraduate certificate) and likely it will be in the second semester of 2022 with a gap for the first part of the year - which will hopefully enable us to move over to Japan and get settled in.

Get house in order

We couldn’t make any progress here last year and we have to this year in order to hopefully sell our house in 2022. We need to finish the garage conversion to the level that the council will provide a completion certificate, we need to renovate the en suite and give the garden and external brickwork some love. It should all be achievable if the current plague gets the fuck out of town.. but I’ve been burned so many times by contractors so confidence in this area is low.

Groundwork for future brewery

Most of the work required towards our future brewery, can’t really start until we are in Japan. Also, as the intention isn’t to establish the brewery immediately, but rather continue my studies and gain some industry experience, the majority of the groundwork is really just research and clarification into licensing requirements and laws, and understanding the hoops that we need to jump through when the time comes, the more we can line up in advance the better.

At this moment in time, I’m thinking that we may build a taproom before we work on the brewery. The thinking is that a) we’ll need one, b) it will help with networking with other craft brewers if I’m selling their beers, c) will potentially open up collaboration opportunities for exclusive small batch limited edition brews to be sold in our taproom and, d) it exploits my almost two decades of experience in working in pubs in Scotland.

The intention would be to have uniform branding between the taproom and brewery, and so we can do work on reserving web domains, logo design, and as above, reaching out to brewers etc. before moving over.

Obtain a driving license

In order to apply for the kyouryokutai scheme and to move to Japan, I need to have a driving license. I’ve previously taken some lessons but due to the demands of work over-reaching into my life those were put on hold. That was several years ago, so I’ll now need to resit the theory exam as my previous pass has now expired. The intention is to find someone who does intensive lessons for automatic cars and I’ll try to arrange that for the Summer (the season referred to as Summer in the rest of the world, not the 3 days of sunshine during the Scottish year). I’m going for automatic as most cars in Japan are automatic and I’m just not that in to driving.. It’s a necessity for both the application and for future plans as we’ll be living very rurally, but excitement levels aren’t overly high and I’m holding out what hope I have that we’ll be able to buy a second hand electric car when we move over.

Continue to find family time

Finally, as busy a year as I have lined up for 2021, these plans cannot be at the cost of restricting time to spend with my daughter and wife. There are goals that must be achieved in order for our plans to progress on schedule but they will need to be achieved around family time.

Onwards!


2020 Plans Reviewed

Review of plans for was a crazy year
Blog: Whitabootery
Categories: 4-minute read

In January last year, I wrote a blog post about my provisional plans for 2020 , this seems as good a time as any to review the plans and assess how well I managed to move towards achieving them.

It probably goes without saying that the global disruptions of this past year have rippled into each of our lives and resultantly some of the plans have been impacted due to situations outwith my control. Also, during the first five months of the year, my wife was working on her MA dissertation, which meant that most of my spare time was dedicated to looking after my daughter, which was great but not conducive to productivity in other realms.

So “excuses” given, let’s review the plans in order of their placement within the previous post:

Japanese Local Government’s Initiative (kyouryokutai programme - 協力隊)

Our plans to apply for this scheme early 2022 have not at this moment changed and feeling around the family is that we have a very good chance of success with our application, however there is one dependency that is going to require a little more social stability and less prominence and threat of covid-19 to achieve. If I’m to apply for this scheme I need a driving license!

Japanese Language Proficiency Tests

I did initially start studying for JLPT N3 at the beginning of last year but this was railroaded by the pandemic and continuous lockdowns slashing my available free time considerably. I’ve re-evaluated the necessity of sitting these tests and as I don’t really intend to work for someone else in a permanent role, I don’t actually think that the proficiency tests are really that necessary. I will have to work on improving my Japanese both spoken and written (typed) and may revisit in the future but for now under current circumstances this is being shelved.

Brew Regularly

My plan for last year was to try and brew a beer each month, so 12 in total, 1 of which had already been brewed (and poured down the drain), I managed a further 6 brews - taking my total at this point to 8 brews over two years. Obviously, this is a little less than I had hoped, but given the circumstances and the tangible improvement in both my brewing knowledge and the quality of the beers, I’m reasonably happy with progress made.

I managed to brew 2 American IPAs, 2 New England IPAs and 4 Imperial Stouts, with the latter darker brews I played around a little with adjuncts, coffee and cacao nibs in this case, which was very rewarding.

Study the Science of Brewing

In this realm, more than any other, great strides were taken! My application to join the MSc Brewing & Distilling (distance learning) programme at Heriot Watt University was successful and I’ve completed my first course, which was Beverage Microbiology and Biochemistry. I’m still awaiting the final marks for this course but my first couple of assignments were well received and very well marked(!) so I have high hopes.

Studying microbiology and biochemistry with no background in science was certainly a steep learning curve, and as I have no aspirations to becoming a scientist, sometimes the content of the course felt a little unnecessary to my particular aims, however other parts were fascinating and really helped boost my understanding of the brewing processes. I still have a lot to learn in this area, and have certain sub-topics that I really want to drill into when time allows, these are: cleaning-in-place, microbial spoilage & strategies to mitigate and eliminate contamination.

Cook-A-Lot

I probably cooked just as often in 2020 as in previous years, however, most of the time the main aim was sustenance rather than making time to cook delicious dishes. It did happen, but with constraints on time being what they were the frequency of cooking “sessions” was lower than I’d have liked. I did make some pretty memorable stews with barley over the last few months.. I might have become somewhat of a barley addict..

Get the house in order

Lockdowns, a neighbour who ignored lockdowns from day 1 and had a constant, daily supply of labourers and other craftsmen visiting his house and a general urgency to protect my daughter from this coronavirus strain meant that absolutely no progress was made here.


All in all, considering that circumstances we all had to face, I’m reasonably content with progress towards our plans during 2020. I would have liked to brew more often, I would have liked to have sat and passed JLPT N3 and it would have been great if some work on our house could have been completed. However, I am firmly on my way to becoming a brewer and whilst more focus will be required over this next year to further progress, I’m happy with the steps taken to achieve this goal during the past year.

Onwards!