As a first solo brewing venture, Brew 2 was slightly ambitious. My first brew (see here for the brewing and here for the tasting) had gone quite well, but I had been supervised during the brewing process. For my second brew, I decided to go for a stronger, darker beer. Specifically, it was to be a shot at something like Sarah Hughes Dark Ruby Mild, a multi-award winning strong beer, and one of my personal favourites. Sarah Hughes Dark Ruby is a very dark red ale, called a ‘mild’ because of low hop usage rather than as a reference to its strength, which is 6%. It has a wonderfully complex smooth, rich flavour. No pressure then.
I had a recipe for a similar ale which is supposed to brew out at 5.7%. I duly bought the ingredients and on a Thursday a couple of weeks ago, I rolled up my sleeves and got stuck in. After some serious sterilizing, I brought the boiler up to a steady 66C and gradually introduced the grain to the mashing liquor. The grain bill for this brew is fairly high – 5kg of grain in 12.3 litres of liquor. Once the grain was settled in and I was sure there were no dry patches, I left it to steep for 90 minutes.
Once the mash time was complete, I sparged the grains with a further 12 litres of sparging liquor at 75C. Even after this, the liquid draining off from the sparge was still sweet. Now I had read that you should sparge until the liquid loses its sweetness. However, I had over 20 litres of wort now, and no room in the boiler for any more, so I returned the wort to the boiler and set it to boil.
At the moment of first boiling, the wort produces a huge foamy head that can boil out and make a horrible sticky mess everywhere, so I stood by with a jug, and as the boil began, I frantically scooped the foam out and poured it down the sink. After a minute or so, the foaming died down and the wort settled into a nice, steady rolling boil. I continued the boil for 90 minutes, after which I passed the wort into a fermenting bin. I had lost quite a lot of liquid to evaporation during the boil, and measured 14 litres going into the bin. I topped it up with 5 litres of cold water to make it up to the 19 litres that this recipe was designed for.
All well and good so far. I clipped the lid onto the bin and left it to cool. I had a packet of highly recommended Munton’s Gervin English Ale Yeast. The instructions on the packet told me to rehydrate the yeast by soaking it in 50ml of water at 35C and half a teaspoon of sugar. I did as I was told and sure enough, the yeast foamed up pleasingly. The instructions then said to add this foam to 250ml of the wort. The wort had cooled to about 20C by this time, so I scooped 250ml out of the fermenting bin with a sterilized jug and added the yeast to it, giving it a good stir.
24 hours later, the little jug of wort sat on the kitchen unit with only the occasional feeble bubble struggling to the surface. I was perplexed, and left it for another 24 hours.
Still nothing. I was wracking my brain, trying to remember what I had done so wrong as to make my wort toxic. Had I forgotten to sterilize anything? Had I forgotten to rinse anything after it had been sterilized?
As I struggled with my thoughts, Lady Alebagger returned from a shopping trip and handed me something she had bought for me. It was a packet of Safale S-04 yeast. I ripped the top off the packet and sprinkled it directly onto the surface of the wort in the fermenting bin. Last hope.
The following morning, the wort had a fine head of lively bubbles that developed over the next couple of days into a bizarre sculpted foamy head.
The original gravity was 1.060 and the fermentation was all done at 1.018. This works out to an ABV of 5.4%. That’s not bad.
Brew 2 is now sitting in a pressure barrel and will remain there for six weeks before I taste it.
So what happened with the Munton’s yeast? As I said, it came highly recommended, and Munton’s is a company with an enviable reputation. The yeast was well within the ‘use-by’ date and I followed the instructions to the letter. Is the rehydrating temperature of 35C too warm (I wouldn’t pitch yeast into wort at this temperature)? Was it just a bad batch? Will I ever try it again? Probably, but not just yet.
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