All been a bit quiet on the blogging front recently, although my brewing has been progressing well. However, I had a really busy extended long-weekend over Easter so I thought it was worth catching up on a few things.
Friday - brewed Urban Bohemian
On Good Friday I finally got around to brewing the Bohemian Pilsner I've been meaning to for a while. I had a pack of Wyeast 2001 Pilsner Urquell
yeast sat in my fridge, but I'd been putting off brewing the beer. I brew very few lagers, mainly because of the time they take. A typical lager fermentation will take around 2 weeks, followed by at least 4 weeks lagering time. That means that my fermenting fridge would be tied up for 6 weeks on one beer. During the summer this would have meant that I couldn't brew anything else, as ambient temperatures would be too high for ale fermentation (range is around 18-22 degrees centigrade). Anyway, now that we're into autumn here in Auckland, the ambient temperatures are more conducive to ale fermentations so I can safely tie up the fermentation fridge with this lager, while I ferment an ale or two in the understairs cupboard.
The recipe came from Brewing Classic Styles
by Jamil Zainasheff. I've brewed a few recipes out of this book now and they've all been excellent. I had to tweak the hops slightly to take account of what I had in stock, but it should be OK.
What I'm not so certain about is the yeast. I've learnt from experience that having the right amount of healthy yeast to start with is critical. I use the Pitching Rate Calculator
at Mr Malty.com
(Jamil's web site) which works out the right amount of yeast to pitch based on the age of the pack, the type of beer, strength etc. For this beer it told me I needed to make a giant yeast starter - 6.5 litres!! I don't think I have a container large enough to make such a starter. Anyway, I made a 3.5 litre starter and emailed Jamil, asking him if he thought I really needed a mega-starter. He didn't get back to me in time (he's a busy man, so it's understandable) so I just went with the 3.5 litre one. If I'd had a bit more time I might have tried to step it up to 6.5 litres by pitching another 3 litres of wort, but I didn't have time (or dry malt extract available). So we'll see how we go. The beer is fermenting away at 10 degrees now so we'll see what happens. The picture below shows the starter bubbling away:
Update: as of last night (22nd April) primary fermentation seems to be basically complete. The specific gravity has dropped from 1.054 down to 1.010, which is better than I expected so it looks like it was a healthy fermentation. The beer tasted pretty good too - nice malty crispness and no signs of sulphury off-flavours which can be produced by over-stressed yeast.
Friday - Keg Oatmeal Stout
I don't normally drink beer while brewing (got to keep focussed!) but while brewing the Urban Bohemian I decided to treat myself to a glass of my Anniversary Day Porter
, which had been tasting very nice indeed. It turned out to be the last glass, as the keg blew dry! Luckily I had another beer ready to go into it so the brewing day was extended as I cleaned and sanitised the empty keg then transferred my Donkey Oatie Stout into it. Donkey Oatie is an amusingly-named oatmeal stout (which is now tasting very delicious).
All in all a very busy day, but very satisfying.Saturday - visit to Galbraiths
On the second Saturday of each month we have a meeting of the local 'branch' of the Society of Beer Advocates (SOBA)
. As this meeting fell on the Easter weekend I decided to just have a low-key event, as many people would be likely to be on holiday. A handful of us therefore gathered at one of my favourite places - Galbraiths Alehouse
in Eden Terrace. I'm sure I've waxed lyrical about this place before, but I never tire of it. The perfect combination of good beer, decent food, excellent atmosphere and a lovely building.
We were lucky to be joined by Ian Ramsay, the brewer of Galbraith's outstanding English-style beers (also a SOBA member). We sampled a few of the beers and chatted about beery things in general. I was sad to hear that the Mr G's Luncheon Ale was not selling well enough and was therefore likely to be discontinued. I've enjoyed this beer a lot - it's a rare sight, a low-strength (3.5%) yet flavoursome English-style pale ale. Beautifully balanced, and the sort of beer you can drink a lot of. Sadly, not enough people have been doing so, so it's not long for this world. Get it while you can.
Sunday - day of rest, inflict homebrew on visitors
On Easter Sunday we had a few friends round for a barbeque. The autumn weather has been very pleasant in Auckland this year and we were able to sit outside all afternoon.
Whenever we have visitors round I'm always keen to get them to try my beer, but always a little nervous. A lot of people still have a negative reaction when you mention "homebrew" - no doubt conditioned by those hideous "kit and kilo" brews that people used to make. If I can get people to sample my beers, I usually find that they are pleasantly surprised.
On this occasion I inflicted my Best Bitter, Pale Beauty pale ale and Donkey Oatie stout on a couple of people. They came back for more so I assume they liked it!
Monday - Wire up temperature controller
For the last few months since I bought a secondhand fridge to act as my outdoor beer fridge I've been running it with the temperature dial turned as low as it would go (i.e. warmer), but it's still a bit cold for the ales that I usually brew and drink. I bought a temperature controller
a few months ago from MashMaster
in Australia but hadn't got around to wiring it up. Part of this was due to needing to fit it into a plastic case as it was going to sit outside.
So on Easter Monday I finally motivated myself to get it done. I drilled and cut the case, sorted out the wiring and assembled the temp controller. It wasn't all that difficult, just a little time-consuming. So now I finally have my temperature-controlled beer fridge. The controller works by turning the power to the fridge on if the temperature gets above the pre-set temperature, then off again once it's cooled down enough. I have my controller set to 10 degrees centigrade, which is a little cooler than standard UK cellar temperature.
Tuesday - bottle barley wine
Back in January I brewed a barley wine in honour of my Grandad Joe, who was a big fan of Whitbread's Gold Label. The beer has been sat in a keg in my beer fridge since then. However, my plan was to get it into bottles so it could be hidden away to mature slowly over a year or two. The problem was I didn't have enough of the right size of bottles. Most of my beer bottles are 750ml bottles and although the beer is nice, drinking 10% barley wine by the pint is not generally a good idea! I wanted smaller bottles and couldn't bottle the beer until I found them.
Eventually I tracked down a source. The Leigh Sawmill Brewery
use 300ml swing-top bottles for their The Doctor strong ale and 12 Gauge strong lager. They very kindly offered to sell me 4 dozen used bottles at $1 per bottle, which I thought was a great deal. They even threw in some spare lids and seals.
Cleaning and sanitizing 48 bottles took a long time, but I kept at it. I then carefully filled the bottles, making sure to "cap on foam" i.e. closing the cap while the neck of the bottle was full of foam, in order to minimize the amount of air left in the bottle. Since I'm intending to keep some of these bottles for at least a year I needed to pay extra attention to sanitation and minimizing the chances of spoilage due to oxidation.
Eventually I ended up with 40 bottles of beer. I created a nice label, labelled them up and have hidden them away. An odd one or two might find their way into the hands of friends, but the rest will be tucked away for future consumption!Wednesday - clean kegs and fridge
After my marathon bottling session on Tuesday night I decided I deserved a drink, so I poured myself a pint of my Best Bitter. Sadly that was the last pint, and the keg blew dry. I now had 2 empty kegs (the Best Bitter plus the barley wine that I'd just emptied into bottles) so I needed to do some keg cleaning. I took the opportunity of a mainly-empty beer fridge to do a bit of a deep clean. The fridge had been getting pretty grubby with beer run-off etc. so I got the Mr Muscle out and gave it a really good clean both inside and out. Cleanliness is vital where beer is concerned so I felt a lot better afterwards. So now I have a sparklingly clean, although sadly almost empty, beer fridge.
All in all, quite a beery extra-long weekend, but very satisfying. Lots of good jobs done, and some nice beer drunk.