100 posts and a beer

No, not a reward for finally finishing painting the fence (that’s a little way off, yet, though progress is indeed a little in evidence in the photo below) but in honour of this, my 100th post since establishing The Back Room. I started this particular blog in October 2016 and so, 92 weeks later, I’ve managed to produce at the rate of about 1 post per week which, given that early days were spent writing quite a lot of material to allow it to hit the ground running, as opposed to embodying a forlorn and somewhat empty-looking single post or two, is not exactly Stakhanovite. A little more needs to be done there, I think.

Many of my more astute readers will have picked up that a lot of my post titles have a (quite deliberately, and stretched in only a few cases) musical connection so, in celebration, I added up how many. (Some sort of answer below.)

In the meantime, and also in honour of the recently passed second anniversary of my coming to live on these islands, I thought I’d toast the last 100 posts and look forward to the next one with a bottle of homebrew: actually, the last remaining bottle of the first batch (of five surviving) I made. This was really quite a good beer – dry, citrusy and hoppy, gently carbonated, a rich golden colour and with a decent and lingering head, and finish: or, at least, the top half was, the bottom half being sediment-heavy and, once added to the glass, making the whole closer in style and appearance to a German hefeweizen than a true IPA. I do need to do something about the sediment next time as it changes the character and taste of the beer completely and I’m not entirely sure I’m such a fan of murk. Not yet, anyway. (Though I’d also be happy to go the whole hog and start brewing hefeweizen, too.) In taste, the closest match I can recall from my efforts is to a Brewdog Dead Pony Club – although that ought not to be the case since this is an American Pale Ale and, being more of a session ale, a little lower in alcohol content than my fairly heady brew. Knowing neither the hop content nor the malt mix involved in my brew, the reasons why will have to remain a mystery for now until I gain a bit more confidence with the basics and start developing my own sources of malt and hops.

But, all in all, a decent start. So, here’s to the next batch – both of beers and, of course, of posts, too.

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It’s 15. (Judge’s decision is final.)
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Stick a brew on, Calvin (3)

It’s bottling day.

This was due originally to take place early last week but, with a small, unscheduled time lag arising from a delayed start to fermentation (note to self: do not shock the yeast when pitching; aerate the wort well; and the advised ‘cool, dark’ temperatures of 15-22 Celsius, well, it really needs to be a bit warmer than that in the cool of a Hebrides house to encourage the yeast to come out to play), and with fermentation likely to have finished a couple of days ago (at least as far as the visible evidence is concerned), I left my brew for a few more days happily lying on.

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The observant will note that, with 4ltrs of beer in the demijohn, these five bottles must be a somewhat odd size; or otherwise that something else may have happened. They are indeed 660ml bottles (ex-Innis and Gunn Original, actually) but that ought to have made six bottles, not five… Disaster struck as a result of an over-enthusiastic application of the bottle capper, post filling, which left the neck of the fifth bottle in shards across the kitchen table and a good chance of a few more in the bottle itself. As well as a rather tense capping of the sixth bottle. It’s really not worth the risk of drinking the contents, strongly tempted though I am, so I’m just back from pouring 1/6 of my hard work straight down the sink. Grrr.

I did get an early taste of the beer when bottling – flat, at this stage (carbonation happens as a result of secondary fermentation in the bottles) and certainly cloudy (it’s the colour and consistency of hefeweizen, quite naturally since I’m not using a secondary fermentor or finings), but certainly tasting of beer, being both dry, hoppy, bitter and citrusy (as expected). And alcoholic, too; although I’m not going to be measuring its actual gravity (my kit suggests it ought to turn out, eventually, around 6.3%). And how did I come to know this at this early stage? Well, after going to the trouble of sterilising the bottles, the caps, the siphon and the racking cane, the siphon has to be started somehow… which seems to defeat the object of sterilisation somewhat. Still.

All being well, the (rest of the) beer should be ready in 2-3 weeks; pending which all remaining five bottles are back in the same place in the kitchen where the demijohn stood, and underneath a towel (which has the dual purpose of keeping light out and adding some form of protection against an over-active conditioning process).

As for me, I’ll get on with the cleaning up before getting on with brewing the next batch

Stick a brew on, Calvin (2)

Coincident both with the last ever London Drinker and with the opening of a new Brewdog in my hometown, I managed to choose today finally (FINALLY!) to get around to brewing one of the beers I blogged about obtaining some months back. Well, it is just about the first time since then I’ve had a guaranteed time at home to keep an eye on things as they ferment and then undergo a secondary fermentation once bottled. Despite my original purchase being the product of a Twitter advertising campaign (one reason for me never ‘liking’ things on Twitter…), Brew Craft Beer has never once contacted me subsequently by e-mail or even by post; a level of marketing tardiness in this day and age which ought, in principle, really to be a prompt for another purchase.

Anyway, of the two kits I bought last summer I went for the IPA. Aside of a couple of small holes in the brewing instructions (resolved with the aid of a few scribbled notes for next time), this was a pretty smooth, if very long, process: three solid hours, plus equipment preparation (sterilisation) and then decanting into a demi-john, and then the washing up, is a fairly solid investment of time into something whose results are far from certain and certainly not guaranteed. Truth to tell, I suspect that the yeast might have been a little close to the end of its life (expiry this month), and I managed to overheat the water at the start of the mash (the difficulties of working with an electric hob, not gas!). Concentration, and speed of reaction, here is really important. The most significant problem, however, was at the sparging process, during which you really need an industrial-size sieve: I used the biggest one available in our kitchen but it was big enough to handle little more than one-third of the wort at one time. I think I remember my Dad using an old pair of Mum’s nylons at this point but, it seems, these days, equipment needs not only to have been thoroughly washed out, as in the past, but fully sterilised, too.

Time will tell as regards the taste of my IPA – eleven days in the demi-john and then a further two/three weeks of conditioning in the bottle – but this has so far been a rewarding process and one definitely worth repeating (and a good job too: the yeast in the Dilly-Dally is also up this month). Brewing in small batches is a pricey business, though: £12 for 4ltrs of beer, for just the raw ingredients alone (as I moaned about previously), makes this an expensive hobby in comparison to popping down to the Co-Op and picking up a few bottles of fully-formed and matured Innis and Gunn, currently at £2.89/660ml). But then, price has never been much of a prompt in comparison to experience gained and knowledge won.

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Time starting to do its telling (demi-john not here in its final position, obviously).

Now, I just need to find a local crofter who could do something with the draff. And, also, I need to start to think about a recipe for making Marmite, just in case that Unileaver loses attention on the UK as a result of its HQ move yesterday 😉 Though making Marmite is, it seems, quite another business entirely from that of making beer. (And, by the way, hats off and absolute respect for a live and active blog post that is just about celebrating its seventh birthday.)

And, as a reward for making it this far through a post about beer (and Marmite), here’s something for that handful of individuals for whom these things are not so important: the view from my kitchen window as I was watching my pots (or, indeed, not). Specifically, somewhat to the left of the position of the demi-john, looking East North-East and taken just before 2pm on an incoming tide.

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Stick a brew on, Calvin

Aha – the postie just brought some great news: Bottoms Up IPA, along with a side order of Dilly Dally English Pale Ale, courtesy of the good folks from Kirkcaldy at Brew Craft Beer and a product of a Twitter advertising campaign from the company which cropped up on my feed earlier this year (these things do work: and it’s a bit scary that it does!).

IMG_6442 (Custom)It’s a kit, of course, and a real one involving proper malt, yeat and hops – no chemical flavourings – as well as a need to understand the intricacies of the wash, sparge and boil stages of making good beer. Bottoms Up IPA promises me ‘floral and tropical aromas … bursts of fruity, citrus hoppiness with grapefruit and orange bitterness … and a sweet biscuity maltiness’ while Dilly-Dally is a ‘bright, coppery English Pale Ale, [with] a maltier base [than its American cousin], with a touch of caramel, as well as a gentle woody, floral aroma.

The kits don’t come cheap – at £12 for enough ingredients to make 4 litres of beer, that works out at about £1.70/pint. Plus delivery plus equipment plus time (and plenty of the latter, by the looks of it). Nevertheless, any attempt to become my generation’s Logan Plant has to start somewhere.

I will be blogging some more about this once I get up and running with it. Or, if it doesn’t quite work out, look out for a few tweets instead.

Just need the time to get the kettle on, now. In the meantime, I have instructions to study… and, I suspect, to learn by heart if I’m not to be juggling saucepans, thermometers, very hot water and pieces of paper with writing on it.