Ben Dean-Titterrell

Politics and beer

Tag: Ben’s Brew

Ben’s Brew 2: IPApricot

IPApricot

Beer in glass

Homebrew number two was envisaged as a light, fruity IPA. The fruit I finally settled on was apricot because that’s what caught my eye at the time I went shopping. It was also a first attempt at all grain brewing. Having had a reasonable result with malt extract brewing I decided to go a step further and try using real barley malt and hops. Having bought the ingredients and large metal pot (and gone through the necessary but boring process of sterilising everything), I got to work.

Adding malt 1Adding malt 2

First step is the mashing process. This involves heating the barley malt in water to extract the flavours. I put the malt, about two and a half kilos of it, in a large mesh bag that makes it easy to remove the malt grains after the mashing process is finished. It’s a bit like making a really large cup of tea but with barley malt rather than tea leaves. You heat this all up to about seventy degrees for around three quarters of an hour. I’m making about twenty pints (two and a half gallons) at this point, but you put something closer to four gallons of water in the pot as a lot of liquid boils away by the end of the process.

Wort 1

Once we take the grains out of the pot we’re left with a liquid known as the wort. The wort has to be brought up to a boil. Once this has happened it’s time to add the hops. As this is an IPA there’s going to be a lot of hops in it. When you add the hops to the wort makes a difference to the taste of the final beer. From my limited knowledge of brewing, the basic rule of thumb is: add them earlier to make it bitter, add them later to make it sweet. I added mine in small amounts every fifteen minutes over a period of about an hour or so.

HopsBoiling wortFinished wort

Once we’ve reached this point we’ve completed almost all of the brewing process. All that we have to do now is let it cool to room temperature, siphon it into the fermentation vessel, and add yeast. Adding the apricot comes a little later on as apparently adding it too early int he fermentation process doesn’t always make it taste great. The adding of fruit will come in about a week.

Siphoning

Once the wort has been siphoned and the yeast added the beer has to be put in a place where it can stay at a constant temperature, in my case this was in a kitchen cupboard next to the washing machine. Next thing to do is what takes up most of your time when brewing beer: waiting. After waiting a week I went out and bought ten apricots, sliced them, put them in two muslin bags, and put them in the fermentation vessel.

(At the time I thought slicing them would be enough but after checking the beer a couple of weeks later I changed my mind and decided they needed mashing up so I just picked up the muslin bags and squeezed them.)

Adding apricotApricot in brew

This is the point where things really start to go a bit wrong. After a while more waiting…

 

…and waiting…

 

…and waiting…

 

…and visiting the Houses of Parliament…

…I thought it was ready!

Then I remembered about adding priming sugar, or brewing sugar, or whatever its called. That I didn’t know the name of the thing I knew I forgot about speaks volumes about how badly things go from here. After some hasty reading of what the sugar is and does and when it needs to be added I just put some dextrose sugar that I’d bought into the brew. The sugar is meant to carbonate your beer, but I know that my adding of sugar was wrong because – spoiler alert – its flat as hell. I’m still not sure what I did wrong and what I was meant to do instead but – another spoiler alert – I’m not going to brew again until I actually learn a bit more about the science of brewing.

So I waited another week or so and decided that it was time to bottle the beer up. Things only go downhill from here. It was an odd colour but at this point I was trying to remain optimistic – unlike one friend who said it looked like yogurt. As I later found out, this weird colour was sediment, lots and lots of sediment. There was near a centimeter of it at the bottom of each bottle once I left them to sit for a while.

Bottled beer

The next few steps happened over a couple of weeks but I’ll just run through them nice and quickly.

  • I decided to buy a water filter to get rid of the sediment, it took me ages to find a UK supplier of water filters, when it arrived I realised I only had one piece of PVC tubing.
  • I cut the tubing in half before realising the now two pieces were so short they were unworkable, the tubing was too narrow to fit the in and out fittings on the filter, I made a lot of mess and lost a couple of pints of beer to spillages.
  • I bought new tubing that would fit, the new tubing did fit but wouldn’t stay on the fitting, I couldn’t be bothered to buy new fittings that would solve the problem, I removed the screw top lid of the filter and tried filtering the beer by placing the ends of the tubing in the filter, I caused a tremendous mess and lost half the beer to spillages.
  • I realised the filtering process hadn’t worked and there was still sediment in the beer, I passed caring and just decided it was finished.

So, after all the stress and irritation was over it was time to give my second homebrew a taste. My apricot IPA is – in two words – not great. It’s so incredibly flat that it’s hard to appreciate anything else about it. It is fairly hoppy and the malt flavour is nicely balanced. The apricot is there in the flavour, but preferably it would be a lot more noticable. Its hard to tell from pictures but the colour has turned out alright. In terms of strength it doesn’t pack much of a punch. Using my new hydrometer I got a reading of 4.07% ABV. This beer certainly doesn’t taste disgusting by any means. But, it’s just so flat; it’s basically impossible to get past that fact.

I’ve tried to brute force my way through my ignorance of the brewing process, and that isn’t really working. So I’m going to take a break from homebrewing until I figure out what on earth I’m doing. Until then, I’m off for a beer. Cheers.

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Ben’s Brew: 1. Rivers of Amsterdam

Over the past year I’ve developed an increasing interest, and interest that has become almost an obsession, with beer. I’ve drunk and read my way to being able to make a casual, passing judgement of any beer. But at some point along the way I declared to myself that I must begin to make my own beer if I hope to increase my expertise and refine my judgement. Also, making beer sounded like fun.

So, I present here the first edition of Ben’s Brew; the tales of my attempts at brewing beer. Expect this series to be periodic and sparse, as, of course, beer takes some time to ferment. I aim to make all kinds of beer and make them all as exciting and interesting as possible. I expect failures, mishaps, and mistakes, and perhaps a decent pint or two, along the way.

Rivers of Amsterdam

My first venture into homebrewing is an amber coloured ale. It came from a basic homebrew kit my girlfriend got me for my birthday. It took about three weeks to make and it spent most of it time fermenting in a cupboard. Here’s what I did step by step to make my first homebrew.

Step 1: Disinfect everything. I shan’t bore you with this step too much, but you basically just have to clean everything so you don’t poison yourself or something.

Step 2: Next you add this weird looking mix to the large plastic tub. This was the malt extract. There were no actual fresh hops or malt grains here, but in future editions of this series I plan to use raw ingredients. The mix used for this homebrew looked and smelt like a very dark honey.

Step 3: Next I had to add 19 (nineteen!) pints of water, 3 of which had to be boiling. I go through this one kettle full of water at a time. It only took till pint 12 or so that I realised there was a second kettle next to me that I could also use. After adding the water you just mix it around with a big spoon for a while. I was surprised at just how easy this was; honestly an idiot could do it, as I hope to have proved.

Step 4: Finally you just add some yeast to make it rise like bread or ferment or something. You might be able to tell that I actually know next to nothing about brewing beer.

Step 5: Put it in a cupboard for about a week and just sit and wait around. I was meant to wait until there were no bubbles at the top of the mix but in the end I just couldn’t be arsed so moved onto…

Step 6: Siphoning! This was pretty grim because when I first sucked on the tube I got some of the liquid in my mouth (beer that hasn’t fermented is really nasty). But yeah you just siphon the mix into this big plastic cube and leave it in the cupboard again for another two weeks.

A note on “leaving it in the cupboard”: The instructions gave specific temperatures to keep the beer at but I didn’t have a thermometer or control of the temperature in the room I was using. So I just thought I’d put in a cupboard and hope of the best. Part way through the fermenting process I bought some new equipment that should make my temperatures more accurate next time around.

New equiptment

Step 7: Now I just sort of waited around for it be ready. I waited…

 

 

…and waited…

 

 

…and waited…

 

 

…and waited…

 

 

…and went on holiday to Amsterdam…

Amsterdam 1

 

 

…and waited a little more…

 

 

…and then it was ready!

So, the big question is how does it taste? Well, in a word: plain.

That’s not to say it isn’t good, it’s just so incredibly plain. The flavours were just so simple and straightforward. It was like drinking a beer that was stuck on the default settings of some kind of digital beer generator. I know that’s quite an obtuse way of putting it, but it was just so one dimensional.

But, it was drinkable and it doesn’t seem to be poisonous. I’ve had it on two occasions now and I’m neither catastrophically ill nor dead. So yeah, I made an actual beer. Regardless of how it tastes, this was, undeniably, a success.

One thing I unfortunately don’t know about the beer is how strong it is. ABV is measured by taking two readings before and after fermentation using something called a hydrometer. I only found this out part way through fermentation, so it’s impossible to know how strong my first brew really is. It feels pretty average though, my best estimate would be between about 4.5 and 5.5 percent.

And finally the name. The name comes from a conversation I had with my girlfriend when we were in Amsterdam as we were walking next to a river. It went something like this:

BEN: You see the colour of the water?

LOUISA: Yeah.

BEN: It looks like my beer.

[side note: the beer was a hell of a lot darker and greyer while it was fermenting]

LOUISA: *laughs slightly* That could be a good name for it. Rivers of Amsterdam.

So that’s that. The full story of my very first homebrew. It was great fun, really great fun, and I can’t wait to do it again. Next time there’ll be real malt grains, real hops, more flavours in the fermentation (I plan to add fruit and stuff), and hopefully another interesting name. Until then, cheers!