Brew Day – Brewdog Elvis Juice

Friday is fast becoming the brew day of choice, for all kinds of obvious reasons, and this week saw me brew a small batch of Elvis Juice, according to a knock-off recipe courtesy of the Brooklyn BrewShop, a US-based start-up dedicated to good beer and good food.

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Compared to my last brew, where the kit production was lavish, full, colourful and absolutely engaging, the kit here was, well, somewhat sparse: straight out of the box we have about a kilo of reasonably well-sealed malt, some hops (in pellets, this time – double vacuumed) and a barely-sufficient sachet of yeast (a little above 3g, this time). Brewing instructions – look on the website; flavour notes and tips – none. Hmm. Albeit that ‘Erica and Stephen’ wish me, via the label on the outside of the box, a happy brewing, while the Brooklyn BrewShop website is also happy to advise me in detail on what else I can do with my spent grains (and not only more granola). Probably, I suspect, it’s a good job that I’m reasonably familiar with what I’m doing as regards the brewing process at this point…

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Future breakfast cereal (this time, using maple syrup, drawn from the Brooklyn BrewShop recipe, in place of honey and sugar).

Actually, this was an incredibly smooth brew day with everything proceeding more or less totally according to plan (Dear Reader: it’s not always like this). Bigger challenges will await, of course, but the point of using small kits is to prove technique and make mistakes before these get a bit more costly. However, this being a US kit, we now have a bit less than a proper gallon (around 3.8L) of good quality beer now sat contentedly bubbling away under the office desk, and the rhythmicality of which is a helpful reminder of the solid patterns of life and engagement in the time before now.

For those who don’t know the beer, Elvis Juice is strongly characterised by citrusy, grapefruity flavours – the brewing recipe calls for the addition of grapefruit, too – it’s a ‘grapefruit infused IPA’. However, most of the flavour comes from the hop mix, with US Amarillo and Citra hops to the fore, alongside the piney contribution of Simcoe. As a wee test and, as ever, influenced by the Reinheitsgebot, the German laws requiring the purity of beer (even if rather controversial as regards the purpose and, these days, somewhat open to interpretation), I decided to omit the grapefruit, intending that the hops should do their work (in conjunction with the malt and the yeast, and the liquor) and stand for themselves as regards the flavour of my beer.

Brewdog – formed only in 2008 and now, following the prospective sale of Marston’s, already the largest independent brewer in the UK – isn’t to everyone’s tastes. This is the case as regards the flavours of the beer – which can be a little unexciting to a modern, continuingly progressive palate versed in passion fruit saisons – or as regards the more controversial financial/ownership aspects of the business. (Not for nothing was Brewdog one of the first to turn its production over to making sanitiser in the current crisis. But at least it did.)

Nevertheless, what is undeniably clear is that, as regards the actual process of making craft beer, Brewdog is very open about its brewing recipes, having open sourced them back in 2016, long before Private Eye got – understandably – involved, and with the specific intention of encouraging craft brewers at home to have a go and make something better. You can, indeed, DIY Dog and, in terms of the flavour of the beer, tell the company at one of its regular events where it is going wrong. With 261 open source recipes, this may well be ‘craft beer nirvana’, although it’s also clear that most of these are small batch one-offs, trials (and probably quite a few failures) and which clearly did not find a regular market as part of the core range. All you need is an online supplier of quality, fresh raw ingredients (malt, hops and yeast) – and there are plenty of those around, even if some are, currently, somewhat challenged by the adverse environment in which we find ourselves. And, I reckon, a good craft brewer needs no more than probably five recipes – or beer types – in their armoury which can be done reliably, and well. Innovation is all well and good – and refreshment and replenishment of the armoury needs to be encouraged – but there are also many problems with a post-Fordist analysis of brewing based on endless variation. Identifying those five recipes is, of course, where there is room for debate; and that is evidently where the magic of choice lies. I have my own thoughts, obviously.

My kit is a little simplified, missing out the Magnum and Mosaic hop elements of the full Elvis Juice recipe – though it’s absolutely fair to comment that, on the basis of a 3.8L kit, less may well be more in terms of the hop contribution at this level. But, building a nation of brewers has to start somewhere and a bit of simplification is probably a good thing: at this level, SMaSH (single malt and single hop) has a lot commend it. Some dry hopping awaits in a week or so’s time, just to punch those citrus flavours home – but, with an astonishingly good brew day behind me, this is another beer whose results are, the outcome of fermentation and bottle conditioning pending, keenly awaited.

Edit 24 June: according to this thread, it might be better to see DIY Dog as a starting point, rather than reflecting a case of Brewdog having given away their actual recipes…

Book review: The Gustav Sonata

The principle of abiding Swiss neutrality is well-known; what is less well-understood is the burdens that neutrality compels its citizens to bear and the price they have to pay in maintaining it.

Rose Tremain’s 2016 work seeks to fill those gaps in telling the story of Gustav Perle, born in 1942 in the (fictional) town of Maztlingen at the heart of Switzerland (interestingly, he is thus just a year younger than Tremain herself). Gustav’s early life – we first meet him aged five – in a family consisting only of himself and a distant, emotionally-cold mother, is marked not only by absences but also by shortages and deprivation, the cold and a tiny apartment in which even fixtures and fittings, still less possessions and toys, are both scarce, shabby and inadequate. The colour of his world is uniformly brown in an immediate post-war era in which the need for Swiss buildings to have nuclear-proof shelters gives notice of the threat of annihilation from the type of destruction that pays no heed to borders or, indeed, to neutrality. Gustav, a sensitive lad, spends his days in the kindergarten following mornings on his hands and knees helping his mother clean the church. Treats there are none, with any spare money going to fuel his mother’s unobtrusive evening drinking, while she dins into his young mind the need to replicate the ‘self-mastery’ that earmarks the country into which he was born.

It is little wonder that, when presented with a little glamour in the shape of Anton, a boy his own age but who doesn’t seem to suffer from the ‘self-mastery’ repression which marks his own upbringing, Gustav falls into a lifelong friendship both with him and with his family.

Structured, like a sonata, in three more or less equal parts, part 1 tells of Gustav’s young life before, in part two, going back to the immediate pre-war era before the chaos whose impact is to leave Gustav, born at the end of part two, in the desperate family situation in which the book opens. Part three brings the story into modern times, dealing with the years from 1992-2002 with Gustav, now a successful hotelier but, ever a smalltown boy, still having barely ventured outside his hometown, coming to terms with the implications of his upbringing but still in search of accommodation; while Anton’s undoubted musical gift takes him, in the face of perennial stagefright, no further than a career as a piano teacher.

The genesis of the novel seems to have been a short story involving a minor character in part 3, allied to the true story of Peter Grüninger, a wartime Swiss police chief in St. Gallen, on the border with Austria. Some versions of the novel include an author-penned Afterward detailing these – unfortunately, not mine (it has, I confess, sat on my to-read shelf for a couple of years), although much of the same ground seems to have been covered in a Guardian Books podcast.

Superficially this is a rather slight tale, written with an economy of language and an extremely light touch, but this betrays an emotional intelligence to savour, with Tremain realising her aim of writing something that is ‘like a Swiss watch, with simple facework concealing complex workings beneath.’ At one level a personal story affecting individuals in a couple of families; at another, a symbol not only of the sacrifices and the bravery which are associated with the moral conundrums that neutrality asks of ordinary people, but also the anxieties and the stress which results in those who, struggle as they might, cannot be as brave. Tremain is a writer of elegant prose and apparently easy skill – the colours of the Swiss mountainside at Davos, with Gustav on a holiday with Anton and his family, leap off the page and stand in dazzlingly sharp contrast to the drab beiges of the young Gustav’s ordinary existence, as indeed does the vivacity of the everyday colours that have occasion to interrupt his otherwise cheerless life. Linguistic motifs – repeated words, lessons, names – recur through the pages as do phrases in a musical score; while the tone of the novel twists repeatedly from the serious and sombre to the light-hearted and capricious, from the unremittingly sad to the uplifting, just as a score searches all moods in order to find a resolution.

Fans of novels which see all loose ends tied up will find much to enjoy here, although the criticism of an ending that leaves few questions unanswered somewhat misses the novel’s connection with the sonata form, in which resolution to the musical themes can be found as the piece moves from exposition to development to recapitulation. The keys to this are even clearly signalled in Tremain’s text: see, in particular, Beethoven’s Les Adieux, which Anton plays at a key moment.

The other substantial theme is loneliness – all the characters are lonely and are looking for friendship, or love, as a way of overcoming this. Both require compromise in some way, and certainly the ability to engage with others, whereas staying neutral, on the side lines, demands of us neither compromise nor engagement. We have that choice, but it is one which few actively select. Switzerland has been changing too, and one of Tremain’s repeated motifs is that the younger generation could not know the difficulties entailed by the threat that 1940s Switzerland, surrounded on all sides by axis powers, could have been invaded at any moment. This is not just the plea of a war-torn generation perceiving its own sacrifices but also a recognition, in this context, that those sacrifices bore a tremendous cost which continues to reverberate.

Tremain deftly ties both themes together, but with such a light touch that the ultimate moral is one that might easily be missed: neutrality implies loneliness and the costs of that, in a world such as ours of shrinking distance, with borders – rightly – breaking down, in terms of individuals’ lives and relationships, is one that is simply too high. No man, nor no state, is an island.

Sunset, looking (mostly) anywhere but west

Last night saw the most stunning sunset skies – to start with, very little to the west as a result of a bank of cloud but, looking firstly north-eastwards, catching a reflection of the set sun in delicate, faint pink; with the colours then deepening and spreading back around the sky to the north and then to the north-west.

Here’s a panoramic view of three separate photos looking broadly north-east – a view I always enjoy as I can see four, if not five, separate islands at one time:

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Secondly, another three-photo panorama more or less starting at the left-hand edge of the above and, now looking north, showing the hills of Harris (Rodal on the right, and then the An Cliseam range), ending up with North Uist on the left-hand side (only three islands visible here, though):

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It’s worth pointing out, by the way, that, according to Doogal, An Cliseam is 46 miles (or 74 kilometres) from here, as the crow flies. Like being able to see Brighton from London. Today, being a different sort of day, I can barely see the other side of the bay – this being the strip of land underneath the lit turbine in photo 1.

Thirdly, another three-set panorama now with a bit of west added in. Again, it follows on from the left-hand edge of the above pic, showing a bit of Harris, Cleitreabhal (and others) on North Uist and then with a bit of local land focus (back again to four islands in one pic again), as the colours increasingly brightened as we move westwards:

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And then finally to just local Ardivachar colour: sky crimson with a bit of orange thrown in, pink and blue. After this, we had a bit more vermilion added in, too, just for good measure. No panorama here – just a single pic. And still not (quite) around to north-west on the compass: the farm gate stands at about 330º on the compass.

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All pics taken between 2200 and 2215, in order from top to bottom (sunset last night at 2157).

Book Review: Greetings from Bury Park

Rather shamefully, for a Twitter user whose handle is ‘PlayedOutScenes’* and, somewhat less consciously, whose blog has the title this one does,** I missed out on Sarfraz Manzoor’s memoir first time round when it was published in 2007. Recently re-packaged and with a new Afterword to tie in with Gurinder Chadha’s 2019 film (which I’ve also yet to see; the wonderful, but currently suspended, Screen Machine – which, in normal times, brings us our cinema – and which did show it was sadly on the mainland when it was current), I finally managed to pick up a copy around the same time as I did one of the film’s soundtrack (on white vinyl, of course). Yes, iTunes: here is indeed another copy of ‘Thunder Road’.

You don’t have to be a Springsteen fan to read it – though it does help to be able to make some important connections: each chapter is the title of a Springsteen song and is headed with a quote from (usually) a different song; while other lyrics and references creep, no doubt consciously, into the text including, on one occasion, one from how Springsteen introduced a particular song on stage at a particular point in his career (and, indeed, at the point when Sarfraz became a fan). No doubt about it, Sarfraz is hardcore, having toured to see Springsteen in many different countries, but the book is not about Springsteen; our hero is, rather, a hook on which to hang a memoir that Sarfraz wrote after his father’s early death as a way of trying to understand who he was and as a way of seeking answers to the questions that he could no longer put to him. Springsteen is a guide uniquely well-equipped to supply the key to the secrets of how to walk like a man.

Each chapter focuses on a particular theme. His father’s early life in this country and before he brought his wife and children over to join him, and then family life with particular regard to his older brother and sister, cover nearly one-third of the book. These set the scene for Sarfraz’s discovery of Springsteen (via a Sikh lad who thereby changed his life and became his blood brother) and his own growing up, including a memorable summer in the US; employment; dating and his mother’s attempts to marry him off in his twenties and thirties; his faith; and, finally, issues of identity, including about being Muslim in a post-9/11 world which sees Muslims as terrorists. The identity issues around being Asian and a Springsteen fan feature throughout (and clearly dominate the publicity for the film).

Giving each chapter a theme means that the narrative features events from Sarfraz’s life as a boy directly alongside those of him as an adult (a redundancy gave him the time to produce, and then pitch, the screenplay on which Gurinder Chadha based her film of something that, in its raw form, would otherwise be unfilmable). Taking such a non-linear, and more compartmentalised, approach is not the only way to tell a biography but, given Sarfraz’s aims, it is particularly appropriate since it lends him the opportunity to collect his thoughts on his father’s motives and actions not only in a retrospective fashion, echoed by his fandom, but also in a way that might have found sympathy with his father. The (slight) downside is that the narrative’s emotional peak – his father’s death – occurs in the first chapter; the Springsteen-related highlight – meeting him at some length while covering a legal case (a precedent-setting one, too) as a reporter but, more so, suggesting to him a particular song and arrangement after queuing for photographs before a gig in Sheffield, and then hearing it done at that gig with a dedication – occur within a few pages of each other before the book is half-way through. The book doesn’t sag thereafter, because Sarfraz has been careful to explain his purpose, but it probably helps to appreciate at the outset that this personal ribbon of highway is a non-linear one.

The immediate attraction of Springsteen’s lyrics to Sarfraz is immense and made clear right at the outset – Springsteen, famously, also had a father who was hard to reach and to whom he could not relate, at least not while growing up in the same house. Many of the single releases apart – which were, frequently and immensely frustratingly, clearly atypical examples of the depth of his writing – Springsteen is a lyricist of phenomenal and consistent power, over some fifty years of creativity, and I felt that same draw when listening to his songs for the first time. Forty years on, and hundreds of plays later, ‘The River’ still has the power to move this listener to tears at the protagonist’s agonised despair at the death of his romantic dreams. That a perfect three-minute record could both be a call to love and to action and, at the same time, convey a depth of meaning was not exactly new to this fifteen-year old in 1978 listening to ‘Darkness’ in the immediate aftermath of punk. However, with growing discovery of the possibilities of textual analysis, Springsteen’s lyrics – the songs being frequently novellas, hinting as much as they revealed while capturing breathtaking moments of candour or insight – represented true literature as significant as anything written by the giants of classical or contemporary literature. It’s a genuine thrill, from one cautious man of the road to another, to read that same discovery from the perspective of another fan.

Only Sarfraz knows whether he succeeded in his mission. I suspect that he did, at least to some degree. Regardless, the stand-out feature of his memoir is its heartfelt call for a greater understanding of the bravery and the sacrifices of the pioneer generation in any circumstance – and I, too, am descended from relatively recent generations of migrants – in leaving behind their families and all that they knew to strive for the means for a better life amidst discrimination, suspicion and racism; and amidst constant calls on their time and their resources, yet freely to give of both.

At the same time, it’s unbearably sad that such sacrifices are worth little without recognising that setting people of the next generation free to exercise freedom of choice about how they live their own lives is not a rejection of those sacrifices but the embodiment of what they themselves had striven for. Domestic authoritarianism is never the answer and that’s a universal truth to families in Karachi, Pakistan just the same as in Freehold, New Jersey: the fear that ‘There’s just different people coming down now/And they see things in different ways’ – crucially acknowledged by the son character in ‘Independence Day’ – would have been something equally recognisable to Douglas Springsteen as to Mohammed Manzoor. And, I suspect, to their fathers, too. In the meantime, ensuring that our best steps are not stolen from us is a job for us all, sons and fathers alike, and at the collective, societal level as well as at the individual one.

And, if Sarfraz’s memoir helps in overcoming the need for us to learn those same lessons at least every other generation, it will have done terrific service.


Footnote: A philosophy from Badlands / ** An excerpt from Rosalita. There is, of course, a Springsteen lyric for every occasion – I even found my own name in a Springsteen lyric once and, coincidentally, one from around the time Greetings from Asbury Park came out. I’m not sure whether I’m sadder that this particular song never made it out of the studio (it wasn’t one of those the subject of that court case); or that, despite the mesmerising lyrical scope hinted at by its title, it was a song for which Springsteen never got round to writing any words.

O2 and Virgin Media merger

Following a fairly public courtship, with on again-off again speculation proceeding over a while followed by firmer rumours of an impending announcement on Friday last week, O2 and Virgin Media have this morning announced plans to merge their assets (and, of course, their liabilities). The deal mirrors the combination of the merger of mobile and fixed line assets that BT and EE entered into some years ago and regulators are similarly unlikely to stand in the way of Virgin Media and O2. Indeed, they might even welcome a larger-scale competitor to BT.

The deal – intended to be complete by the middle of next year, regulators permitting – has an extremely complicated structure as regards the financial engineering and I’m not intending to go into that here. There are, however, a number of points to note as regards the policy implications of the proposed deal.

Firstly, there is the question of the ‘substantial synergies’ expected to arise from the arrangement – expected to total some £6.2bn net, according to the details set out in the announcement itself. Substantially, this will be in terms of the companies’ cost and capital expenditure commitments, with major implications specifically identified in the announcement in terms of the combining of network infrastructure and IT systems, marketing, general and administration costs and site rationalisations. As we might well anticipate, none of this is likely to mean good news for workers in the industry for jobs or future terms and conditions of employment. If you’re working in the industry – for any employer, not just those that have made the announcement today – and you’re not a member of the union; well, you know what to do: join here if you’re a manager or professional in any capacity; or here if you’re up the poles and down the holes, or in the offices or call centres.

Secondly, it extends the ‘convergence’ of the communications industry (i.e. the coming together of mobile and fixed-line telecoms). Long an industry buzzword, this was facilitated some years ago by the arrival of the smartphone – the computer in your pocket – and companies on either side of what was previously a divide have been a little slow to respond, for reasons that are clearly numerous. But deals of this scale are, pandemic apart, likely both to encourage each other and to lead to bigger ones. So far, convergence has affected companies within a single country, but the bigger deals of the future are likely to be international as death-bed capitalism struggles for one more throe [of the dice] although, post-Brexit, they are, perhaps, less likely to feature companies in the UK. Nevertheless, and especially in anticipation of the likelihood of regulatory approval, it firmly marks out the UK communications market as, finally and ultimately, a converged one as regards the supply of services to consumers, which will have several repercussions.

Thirdly, there are inevitable implications for BT as a result of the merger. What these might be are, as yet, unknown; and much depends on how serious a competitor the merged Virgin/O2 turns out to be in practice. Either way, BT has already been re-organising itself to deal with competition over an extended period, with a sharp impact on workers’ terms and conditions. Such activity might well not be stepped back in the future – and that would really come as no surprise at all.

Fourthly, there is a quite a bit which is going to have to be unknitted before the merger can be allowed to proceed. It is here that Ofcom – the UK regulatory body for communications – is likely to take the closest interest. Mobile operators have, over years, offered their networks to suppliers of mobile contracts who don’t have networks of their own, and have developed a web of extensive relationships with them. Some of these are identified by ISP Review in its comment on the merger announcement and include: Virgin Media’s five-year deal with Vodafone to supply mobile communications, commencing at the end of next year; and Virgin Media’s fibre capacity deal with Three, announced only two days ago. O2 of course also has a range of similar deals, supplying connectivity for the mobile offerings of both Tesco and Sky. Regulators are likely to insist that such offerings continue in principle, as it provides some – perhaps rather superficial – element of competition, but particularly once Virgin has ‘in-house’ capacity of its own, there will be costs in extricating itself from such contracts.

Some unknitting might also have to occur were the combined company to choose a new name for itself. Virgin Media – taken over by the US giant Liberty Media a while ago – currently pays Richard Branson a royalty of 0.25% of part of its consumer, business and content revenues, plus a further royalty on business operations revenues, with both together amounting to a minimum payment currently of £10.5m/year, for the privilege of using the Virgin name. The activities of the Virgin Group in terms of impact on customers’ goodwill is specifically named as a risk factor in the annual accounts. It never rains but it pours eh, Richard?

Fifthly, the deal poses interesting conundrums for the shrinking number of those companies that are left behind – chiefly, Sky, Vodafone and Three. Vodafone has long been linked with Virgin Media, and it may be that it seeks to enter the fray here although it was interesting to hear Karen Egan, telecoms analyst with Enders Research, comment on this morning’s Today programme on Radio 4 that she thinks both Vodafone and Sky are currently ‘off the table’ as a result of debt concerns of their own. Three has no fixed network of its own; Vodafone does, as a result of its takeover of Cable & Wireless some years ago, although its current wholesale associations with both Openreach and CityFibre are suggestive of some limitations in that respect; Sky’s fibre offering is via Openreach and it has no mobile network of its own, existing purely on the back of the networks of others. Within the converged market that the UK increasingly represents, there is little regulatory possibility, as currently conceived, for any of these to seek separately to merge with either BT/EE or Virgin/O2; and, while it is not the purpose of this blog to encourage such destabilising speculation, a more formal link between the three thus looks more likely as a result of this morning’s announcement. Regardless, if Egan is right, then even a merged operation would start not only as the number three operator but with a severe financial handicap. The comms lines between all three, and with their major investors, are indeed likely to be buzzing this lunchtime.

Sixthly, and most importantly of all – join the union. Now.

A granola PS

… and pretty decent the spent grain granola is, too: a toasty and malty, even chocolatey flavour with a bit of bite even if a bit gritty in parts. A different malt bill from a different beer – say, a stout, as opposed to an amber ale – would clearly produce a different taste so it will be good to try it again with spent grains from a different beer.

Once dried in a low oven, the weight of my spent grains from my California Common kit came to 420 grammes, so, after I’d converted the dry goods ‘cups’ in the HomeBrewtique granola recipe, via Goodtoknow‘s conversion chart, it was easy to scale back the rest of the ingredients to 75% to produce some 1.25kg of healthy breakfast cereal from, otherwise, the addition of simple store cupboard ingredients.

Here’s the pre-bake version – once baked (30 mins at 180C), the only difference is that the picture looked a bit darker than this:

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Just add fruit and your yoghurt of your choice.

The mix is pretty dry, with the honey doing little in terms of binding any of it together, adding therefore only more sweetness, so – having a savoury rather than sweet tooth – I’d scale that (and the sugar) back next time by about half (sugar and honey account for about 14% of the finished product in terms of the recipe); while I’d also substitute dessicated coconut for the coconut flour which will add a different texture. A little cinnamon, especially in a dry mix, also goes a long way. I’d also add a few dried fruits (we’d run out, else they’d have been there in this one, too).

All helps make my investment in beer kits go that bit further, especially at a median price of about £1/100g, according to Healthista’s recent-ish list of ‘eleven best healthy granolas’.

And really very little faff involved in making it, either 🙂

Brew Day – California Common

What better way to spend a #lockdown May Day than in brewing beer? This one a California Common all-grain kit courtesy of the good folk at HomeBrewtique – a small company supplying low-volume beer-making kits (4.5l; 8 pints) and equipment, set up by women beer lovers and still run entirely by women. HB is still able to supply a few things in these times (although they have now run out of California Common) and the customer service is first-rate.

And a very impressive thing it is straight out of the box, too (or, rather, bag since HB typically supply their kits in a rather lovely jute bag) – a kilo of vacuum-packed grains to stay fresh in transit and during the few days it sat in my office; hops (pellets this time) in a tea bag-style arrangement to help keep back the debris; and all the sanitiser, dextrose (brewer’s sugar) finings and yeast that you need; plus 8 A5 pages of instructions and a helpful short guide. The little black number, by the way, is additional and contains HB’s own ‘Grainstay’ – essentially a fine mesh bag packed small and contained in a small pouch that will itself be handy in small batch hopping.

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This time I’m also using HB’s own plastic fermenter which, helpfully, comes ready supplied with a tap and a bottling stick to facilitate the bottling process.

So, after trying a few simple all-grain brews, I’ve opted for the brew-in-a-bag method (BIAB – more accurately, mash-in-a-bag, really) as a way of keeping back more of the debris which, at both bottling and drinking time, has presented a few problems firstly of technique and then of taste; while I’ve also abandoned – at least, for now – the demijohn which I used previously, this being impractical for dry hopping and also with more than a few weak spots in terms of the ease (and hygiene) of bottling batches of this size. The BIAB method is also a little quicker since it eliminates the need for sparging, although yesterday I continued with the sparge stage (and also with recycling the wort), firstly since it’s the best way of ensuring as much of your fermentable sugars are transferred into your boiling pot as possible; and secondly because, well, it is one of my favourite words.

My decisions here stemmed from the problems I had with bottling my black IPA and which I’d feared on brew day itself. The amount of debris in the fermenter was considerable and, after I’d dry hopped, left me with barely six x 660ml bottles of beer, of which I’d be only really confident of three while a fourth presented real concerns and which, I suspect, is already oxidised. At least it hasn’t – yet – blown. I’m looking forward to drinking what I can of the batch – though that won’t be for a few weeks yet as it’s currently conditioning – but the bottling experience was a stressful and not particularly enjoyable one. There clearly is a better way.

The California Common brew day went well enough although – once again – I failed to give myself enough backup liquor to top-up, leading to a second, somewhat extended, cooling process in the fermenter. The Grainstay looks to have done a decent job in holding back some of the grain and hop debris, with the amount of sediment in the hydrometer jar being visibly less than before (while still being there…). The fermenter being plastic means I can’t see what’s in it as regards a sediment layer, which is a drawback compared to the glass demijohn, as is that I can’t check quickly – without removing the lid which I’m loath to do, even briefly – on whether the yeast is doing its job. This is quite important since the amount of yeast supplied in the kit – the brand supplied is a known slow-starter, by the way, for all its other merits – was precise rather than generous. It was enough, although I rehydrated it firstly as good practice and secondly as a way of trying to maximise the number of yeast cells in operation. I do have some suitable backup dried yeast, just in case things don’t happen as they ought.

So, after two weeks in the fermenter, two weeks of conditioning in the bottles and then a further two weeks (or so) of storage, my California Common (essentially an American pale ale, but with more woody spice than citrus notes coming from its use of Northern Brewer hops which German migrants brought to the rather different brewing practice in the warmer climes of California) should be ready to drink. In the meantime, the sample in the hydrometer jar was, once it had clarified over a couple of hours, a beautifully clear amber colour, showing excellent promise. High hopes for this one!

In the meantime, and speaking of recycling, yesterday’s spent grains are now drying off in the oven and I’ll be using them to try and make some granola, in line with the Home Brewtique recipe. Well, if you don’t come out of this #lockdown with… &c, &c.