Brew Day: Belgian Blonde

Friday might well be the brewday of choice for the discerning home brewer – but Wednesday is perfectly possible, too. And, with a small gap on the work front, ahead of a busy couple of days coming up, today was the turn of a Belgian Blonde kit.

This is the first of three different kits secured a couple of weeks ago from Brewstore, an Edinburgh-based supplier of all things home brew since 1979. Currently closed to personal customers, as is the way of things during the current Troubles, the website offers a window, at changing times of the day and evening, during which people can place orders, and this came with pretty prompt service after one evening when I found myself, fortuitously, in the middle of one of those windows.

Continuing the minimalist theme of the Brewdog Elvis Juice kit I made a week or so ago – and which is still sat in my main fermenter, fermentation having (I hope) finished, and now absorbing the flavours of the dry hops I put in on Monday – this kit also provides only the basic ingredients and leaves you to get on with the job:

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Steriliser – nah: supply your own; kit instructions – check the website; flavour notes and tips – well, everyone knows a Belgian Blonde, don’t they: in this case, ‘classic Belgian fruitiness, lightly spicy and hints of clove’. Hoppier than I remember, and a little deeper amber in colour, too, if the contents of my gravity sample jar are anything to go by. Perhaps it’s just too long since I was last in Brussels. The handwritten labels, so I don’t mix hops or malt up with the other two packs I ordered, is a nice touch. And yes, the (vacuum-packed) hop (pellets) are in a little paper bag, of precisely the sort that your tuppenny mix (insert your own currency here) used to come in. The malt is not vacuum-packed – it’s in a poly bag with a hand-tied knot – but I know it’s freshly milled. And here, the yeast is at least a 10g pack: more than enough to give me another go at some future point. (At around a tenner, I should also say that it’s pretty well priced.)

And, actually, that is the point – Brewstore also offer a ‘recipe builder’ service so, in the future, I can order the hops and the malt that I need to make a particular beer, and in the quantities I want. That’s definitely one step closer to ‘proper’ brewing, once I’ve finished ironing out the process and getting my mistakes learning points out of the way.

With just the one set of hops, and all introduced at the start of the boil (or before, if you’re first wort hopping, like me), this was a fairly straightforward process (and I even managed to do a bit of cleaning up rather than needing to keep a close eye on my timings, otherwise pacing up and down, while the wort was on the boil). The tricky bit about a Belgian Blonde, so James Morton tells me, is in the fermentation, which has to be kept cool in the first 48 hours before letting the yeast rip. Keeping things cool in the Hebrides is not usually much of a problem – though, even so, while I managed to cool my wort down lower than I ever have done before, pitching the yeast at 18C, my demijohn is now sat in a bath of cold water at a steady 18C. Conversely, ‘letting it rip’: well, let’s just say I’m a bit less confident about that. At least the weather forecast is for sunshine over the weekend so, once it’s out of this initial lag, let’s see how the yeast gets on in the warmth of a Hebridean summer. (And another good reason for timing a Wednesday brewday.)

No brewday is ever quite complete without a panic or two – here, the major one was actually last night when I found out that the new silicon bungs I bought when the previous airlock got stuck in one (and snapped) wouldn’t fit my demijohn, no matter how much hot water, squeezing and swearing I tried. A quick online consultation with the very helpful and reliable home brewers over at the HomeBrew Forum confirmed for me within minutes that a freezer bag held on with a rubber band (if I wanted to have confirmation that fermentation was underway); or a bit of cling film (sanitised) and secured in place similarly (if I don’t), were more than acceptable substitutes. In brewing, there is no problem that no-one has yet come across – or found an answer to.

Life is probably a bit like that too, once we remember how to ask.

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