Brewing up a storm…

I chose yesterday as a brew day (though actually, on looking at the calendar, as well as at the weather forecast, I ought to have used a rare day off work to have been bottling my Belgian blonde, instead).

This was the second of my three 4.5 litre kits from Edinburgh’s Brewstore – the third may follow next week (oh, the joys of having two fermenting vehicles!) – and which bills itself as a ‘session pale ale’: a beer which, with the ABV being a tad lower, you can drink by the bucketload. This one’s in the American style and so packed with ‘zesty, floral American hops’ – almost certainly Amarillo and, I think, also Chinook (there’s two varieties in the pack).

As before, the packaging is admirably no-frill (especially around the milled barley), although this also extended this time around to the recipe instructions, whose glorious incorrectness required a fair bit of on-the-spot thinking as well as reference to the bible according to James Morton in order to magic these base ingredients into something wonderful.

IMG_5713 (2)

Specifically, the recipe called for a pre-boil volume of 8 litres, whereas 7 was expected; and with a hop addition schedule which identified usage of about one-third of the quantity supplied and which looked, to my semi-experienced eye, seriously underweight for a beer of the style. Now, it’s not unusual to get a degree of over-supply – but usually with the yeast (a 10g packet is about twice the volume required, providing (among other things) that you’ve kept it properly and you’ve not put off your brewday too far beyond the delivery). Over-supply of hops is a different matter though – and, indeed, I will be using them all, simply scaling up the amount specified in the recipe (both in the boil and, ten days or so down the line, for dry hopping) to the quantities actually supplied.

Expecting to get 4.5 litres into my fermenter, I was, some 45 minutes into a 60 minute boil, faced still with c.7 litres of wort in my boil pot and a further 2.5 litres wasn’t going to boil off any time soon, so I decided to extend the boil for a further 30 minutes. A 90-minute boil isn’t a bad idea with paler malts, not least since it facilitates greater caramelisation and therefore produces a maltier flavour – but it does concentrate the wort a little more: at the end, I still had 5L to squeeze into the fermenter, and that’s even after allowing for the extraction of a testing sample whose gravity was, as a result of the concentration arising from the extended boil time, way over target. So much for this turning out to be a ‘session’ beer, then: provided the yeast is allowed to do its job as expected, this is likely to pack a punch more higher than the expected 4.3%.

The background to my decision to extend the boil time was growing thunder and lightning arriving, as expected, but a little earlier than scheduled and with voltage dips already briefly dimming the lights on several occasions. Thunderstorms are not so usual here on the islands although power cuts are; and putting 2 and 2 together made the decision a somewhat fraught one. Indeed, no more than five minutes later, a brighter flash outside was accompanied by lights going off inside – although, as it turned out, the power was only off for a minute or so. If it had been for longer, I was faced with the difficult decision of tipping a lot of wort down the sink, eventually proceeding to feed the nettles.

As it turns out, the power going off almost exactly coincided with the time this picture was taken, from just north of the Creagorry Co-op, on Benbecula, the South Uist hills a faint outline and only a few miles from our house/brewery:

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Photo credit: @RossMcClenaghan

It was indeed quite a storm which lingered until bedtime but whose crescendo was very much earlier in the day, as Western Isles Weather also faithfully reported, and coincident with my brewing. Full credit to all the workers at SSE who kept us going through the strength of all that.

But, no harm done – and, indeed, from tasting the wort in my sample jar, I have again high hopes for this one: very bitter but already (ahead of dry hopping) with a powerful, piney-yet-zesty hop aroma and citrusy flavour. Just need the yeast to do its work now: and, as I type, there’s a steady rhythmic thud from the airlock, which is a good sign that it’s happily munching its way through the sugars, turning my wort into beer.

And, after those little successes in working over somewhat-faulty instructions, time to think afresh about a little investment in some bigger kit (and more beer) šŸ™‚

4 thoughts on “Brewing up a storm…

  1. Love to read about your brewing experiences!! Makes you wonder how it all started and who decided that a bit of this and a bit of that would turn into something as tasty as you describe…

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    1. Oh, it’s astonishing, isn’t it? Just four ingredients and with an amazing complexity of flavours depending on your own choices about how they come together and how you brew and ferment.

      What amazes me is people have probably been fermenting things since about 9000BC; certainly since 7000BC. The Celts were brewing about 2000BC. Even by 1150, people knew that hops were a suitable substitute for the herb mix that was then in use to flavour beer and, although an understanding of yeast (and subsequently its role in the production of beer) didn’t come about til the mid-nineteenth century, beer had long been a commercial proposition, playing a major part in the life of the nation.

      Did you know Queen Elizabeth I started her day with two pints of beer?

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