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Beer Kit Review: Brewferm Diabolo

About twenty years ago, I went through a phase of making lots of beer from kits. Most of them were perfectly drinkable, but quite often had that flavour-characteristic that I (and I expect everybody else) call ‘homebrewy’. It’s a taste that I have tried to remove from my full-mash brews of more recent times.

Some of the homebrew kits that I made in those days, however, never had any hint of that homebrew flavour. One in particular stood out for me. It was called Diabolo, probably the strongest kit beer I ever brewed. I have some notes from those days, but all I wrote for this particular kit was “Brilliant!”

Times moved on and home brewing took something of a back seat, I occasionally made a brew for a special event, but not as a regular thing.

Over the past year or so, I have taken up brewing again, this time full-mash, but last time I went to the local brew shop, I was looking through the kits and there it was – Brewferm Diabolo. Before I knew it, I had bought the kit, along with the ingredients for my next two full-mash projects.

I spent eight hours a few days later mashing, sparging and boiling my latest beer. After I’d finished and washed up, I spotted the Diabolo kit, just sitting there saying “Please make me! Please make me!” I took out the instructions. It seemed very simple, there wasn’t even any boiling involved, so I decided to make the kit straight away. It took all of thirty minutes.

The kit is supposed to make nine litres, but if you follow the instructions to the letter, you end up with a little more than that. Basically, all you have to do is to add water, sugar and yeast and off it goes. Because of the extra liquid, I split the brew between two medium-sized buckets. A single bucket would have overflowed when the head formed, making a mess of the kitchen floor and I was keen not to incur Lady Alebagger’s wrath.

The original gravity reading was 1.070, against the instructions’ 1.075. Maybe the extra water caused the lower reading. After ten days, the specific gravity had been constant at 1.013 for three days, so the beer was racked into two demijohns for what the instructions describe as ‘second fermentation’, though no extra sugar is added at this point. The derived ABV is about 7.2% at this point. The beer remained in the demijohns for four weeks, when it was transferred to 19 Grolsch bottles, with half a teaspoon of sugar added to each bottle.

After sitting in the bottles in a dark garage for six weeks, I decided it was time to have a first taste. Ooh! No disappointment at all. This beer is strong, rich and very smooth. The first two bottles (both drunk at the same time but not both by me) had distinct aniseed flavours, but these have since reduced to the point of vanishing. The beer is a deep orange in colour with a large, slightly off-white head of tightly packed tiny bubbles. It is sweet in the mouth to start, followed by a quick bitterness at the finish. The most prominent flavours are smooth toffee and spicy pepper. The mouthfeel is smooth, with an extremely smooth, satiny finish. There are strong alcoholic overtastes, typical of strong beers.

One curiosity I have noticed: the beer is clear and bright in the bottles with only traces of sediment in the bottom of the bottle, yet when I cool the beer in the fridge, it goes quite hazy. I’m not sure why this happens. If you have any ideas then please comment below.

I drank the first couple of bottles with a friend of mine, a keen and discerning beer drinker. He asked “Why do you go to the bother of brewing from scratch when you can make stuff like this from a kit?”

It’s a reasonable question. I’m sure there are many homebrewers out there who would reply that there is more control and more satisfaction in making it all yourself. It’s like asking a cook why she bakes her own pies when she can get perfectly good ones from the local supermarket. But still, he has a point.

This kit cost me £11.49 and a bit of sugar. That’s damned cheap for 19 bottles of 7.2% beer!

I’m not going to stop doing the full brew, but I’m going to check out a few more kits. After all, I put my full brews in casks, and kits can go in bottles.

In conclusion then; Brewferm Diabolo is an excellent brewkit. You don’t need any special equipment apart from a food-grade bucket. There’s not even any boiling required. You can make your own proper strong Belgian ale for around 60p per bottle. Give it a go!

P.S. For what it’s worth, the full-mash beer I took eight hours to make on the same day turned out to be undrinkable!

Words and images are my copyright, please respect that. All you have to do is ask. Thank you.

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Posted by on 16 August, 2012 in Brew Kits, Home Brewing

 

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Brew 2 Hits the Mark

A little while ago, I discussed the problems I had had with yeast for my Brew No 2 (see here). Having sorted that out, the beer fermented vigorously for three or four days and then settled into a slower, gentler ferment.

After seven days, the specific gravity had remained at 1.018 for three days, and so I considered it time to transfer the beer to a pressure barrel. The target SG for this brew was 1.015, but it clearly wasn’t going to get there, and I had measured the original gravity at 1.060, again slightly higher than the target 1.058. With these gravity readings, I calculated the ABV to be close to 5.4%, which was quite acceptable for my purposes.

The recipe was supposed to be an approximation to Sarah Hughes Dark Ruby Mild, a superb 6.0% dark ale with an army of dedicated fans all around the country. Now the actual recipe for Dark Ruby is very complicated and includes such ingredients as ear of bat and eye of newt*, and is constantly being tweaked by the brewer, so there is no chance that this beer will taste the same, it’s just an approximation.

One of my bugbears is “that homebrew taste” that everyone knows, but which is notoriously difficult to pin down. I certainly can’t describe what the “homebrew taste” actually tastes like, and I’m not sure many people can. You know it when you taste it. I’ve had beers from professional breweries with that taste, which goes to show that it can happen to anyone. In a previous post, regarding the results of Brew 1 (my first full-mash brew (here)) a discussion ensued in the comments, and a few suggestions were made. One which struck a chord with me was post-fermentation oxidation. Not only did it seem possible, indeed likely, it was also relatively easy to do something about.

Bearing this in mind, the transfer of the beer from the fermentation vessel to the pressure barrel was made with very great care. As the beer began to flow through the siphon tube into the barrel, I ensured that the beer ran down the inside of the barrel, and the beer was not allowed to splash. As soon as there was enough beer in the barrel to make it possible, the end of the siphon tube was placed under the surface of the beer, thus ensuring no air got into the beer through splashing. The barrel was sealed tight and moved to a cool place for secondary fermentation.

After two days, I returned to the barrel and gently unscrewed the lid. There was a satisfying hiss, and when this died down, I resealed the barrel. In this way, I hoped to remove most of the air trapped in the barrel after the transfer from the fermentation vessel. The capacity of the barrel is much larger than the capacity of my boiler, so the barrel was not much over half full. The carbon dioxide produced by the secondary fermentation is heavier than air, so in an ideal situation, the gas that is vented off the beer is air, not carbon dioxide. Of course there is some mixing, and you can never get all the air out of a barrel by this simple procedure, but it’s a whole heap better than nothing. I replaced the escaped air with a blast from a CO2 cylinder.

If it had been possible, I would have repeated this procedure after another two days, but I was out of the country by that time and couldn’t do it.

Brew 2

So, did it work?

I believe it did. The beer was tapped after six weeks in the barrel. The colour was a deep ruby, but nowhere near as dark as the Sarah Hughes, which is virtually black. There is also a bit of haze in it (not so important in a dark beer, but something to look at for next time). The taste, I am really happy to say, is utterly fantastic. It tastes like a proper strong dark ale, malty and sweet with the tiniest hints of chocolate and clearer notes of treacle. The head is strong and remains in place all the way down a pint pot. I can honestly say that if this was on a handpump in a pub, I would stay on it all night. And as for the “homebrew taste” – completely absent. This tastes like a proper, professionally made dark ale.

I’m using this ‘anoxic’ technique on my current brew, Brew 3, though there have been hurdles to leap in the making of this one which may work against me – more for a later blog,.

If you’re in the process of brewing at the moment, give my experience some thought. After fermentation, the beer in your fermentation bin is pretty well anoxic. It seems to be important to keep it that way. Try it.

*This is a joke. Please do not refer Sarah Hughes Brewery to any animal welfare organizations. No animals are harmed in the making of beer. Except fishes, occasionally. And old cocks.

Words and images are my copyright, please respect that. All you have to do is ask. Thank you.

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Posted by on 25 May, 2012 in Cask Ale, Home Brewing

 

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The Day I Thought My Beer Had Died

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.

Heavy grain bill – pale and crystal malt

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.

This lovely coffee-and-cream head forms just before the 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.

48 hours on and this yeast isn’t doing anything

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?

It’s dead, Jim

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.

IT LIVES!

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.

Whoa!

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.

Munton’s Gervin, left, and Safale S-04, right

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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Posted by on 20 April, 2012 in Home Brewing

 

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The First Taste of My First Brew

Five weeks ago, I made my first ‘full-mash’ or ‘all-grain’ brew. I followed a recipe that was supposed to emulate Timothy Taylor Landlord, an award-winning pale ale (CAMRA’s Champion Beer of Britain 1982, 1983, 1994 and 1999). I had two good reasons for selecting this particular recipe. Firstly, the recipe was fairly simple, mostly pale malt with a little black, and easily available hops – Goldings and Styrian Goldings. The description of the brewing can be found in a previous blog. Secondly, Taylor Landlord is an excellent beer.

After fermenting for a week, the specific gravity was steady at 1.014, so I transferred the beer to a pressure barrel, primed with a little (50g) sugar. The book I was following the recipe from (Brew Your Own British Real Ale by Graham Wheeler, CAMRA Books, 2009, 3rd Edition) recommended leaving the beer to mature one week for every 0.01 of original gravity. As the OG of my brew was 1.043, I waited for four weeks, though not without the odd sneaky sip.

As the beer was supposed to emulate Taylor Landlord, I drank it side by side with a bottle of Landlord that had been kept at the same temperature as the cask.

Brew 1 to the left, Taylor Landlord to the right

Seen side by side, the Landlord was a shade or two lighter than my brew.The head of my brew was slightly whiter and consisted of slightly larger bubbles, though this could have been a result of the method of dispense.

The Landlord was smooth with a warm malty start, and a burst of hop bitterness at the end. There are slight hints of caramel and it is clean and crisp throughout.

My beer, which in a flash of creative genius I dubbed ‘Brew 1’ also starts with a warmish malty taste, and yes, it’s followed by a touch of hoppy bitterness, but nowhere near as ‘clean’ as the Landlord. I thought the hops were far more noticeable about three weeks ago, at my first crafty sip. They seem to have faded a little now, though a distinctly hoppy bitterness continues in the mouth long after the swallow. Also present in the taste are occasional hints of acetaldehyde, though this is by no means as prominent as it has been in previous kit beers that I’ve brewed.

Overall, my biggest disappointment in this beer is that it still tastes rather like homebrew. It’s a subtle flavour complex that I can’t describe, but I’m sure all homebrewers are familiar with. I don’t know what it is. I wish I did.

Having said the above, the beer is tasty and really quite drinkable. It presents well with a bright white head, which lasts well, and only a very slight protein haze. I’m drinking some as I write this.

So, winner? Loser? I’m going to withhold a judgement for now. On the pro side, I’m happy to drink it and happy to offer it to any guests who may visit Alebagger Towers and Brewery. It does taste like beer, it does have a nice malt/hop balance and it slides down quite easily. I’m not going to beat myself up over it, after all, this is my first brew, and young Timmy’s been at it for 164 years.

On the con side, it’s still a bit ‘homebrewy’.

Colour comparison

Next, I’m going for a darker, stronger brew. I’ll report back in due course.

For those interested in the technicalities, here’s the recipe I followed:

The brew is 19 litres.

3510g Pale Malt 25g Black Malt

Mashed at 66C for 90 minutes

Start of boil – 25g Golding hops, 25g Styrian goldings.

Boiled for 90 minutes.

Last 10 minutes of boil – 16g Styrian goldings plus 3g Irish Moss

Mash liquor 8.8l

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Posted by on 23 March, 2012 in Home Brewing

 

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My First Full Mash Brew

The planning had been done; the equipment purchased; the recipe decided on and the ingredients gathered.It was time. Time to make my first full mash beer.

I was up early (for me – not a morning person), and spent some time thoroughly sterilizing boiler, bins and other equipment. I carefully measured out each ingredient, and poured the required 8.8 litres of water into the boiler.

Malt measured out and awaiting mashing

I’m not quite sure at what point the water becomes ‘liquor’, but it’s certainly that by the time it reaches 66°Celsius. Just at the critical moment, my friend and brewing mentor, Dr Tristan Robinson arrived. Under his supervision, I gently poured the grain into a mashing bag that I had placed in the boiler. It took some time to get all the malt in, constantly stirring as it went in to ensure there were no clumpy dry patches. Eventually it was all in the bag, and we settled down to wait out the 90 minute mashing period. Every 15 minutes, I checked the temperature and gave the mash a good stir.

The malt in the mash bag in the boiler during mashing

My boiler is not very large, so once the mashing had finished, we drained the boiler off into a fermentation bucket before sparging the mash. We sparged the mash with 16 litres of liquor at about 75°C. As we drained off, the sweetness could be tasted. Sparging continued basically until the liquid being drawn off started tasting watery.

Sparging

By this time, we had about 22 litres of wort, which was put back into the boiler (minus the mashing bag, of course) and the first hops added (25g each of Goldings and Styrian Goldings). The hops come in a vacuum-sealed packet, and look somewhat unappetising, but when loosened between the fingers give off the most glorious smell.

Unappetising looking vacuum-packed hops

Once opened up, they look a lot better – and smell fantastic!

The boil lasted in total about 90 minutes, with some time being lost as we learned the eccentricities of the boiler’s thermostat. I’ll be able to do better next time. For the last ten minutes of the boil, a further 16g of Styrian hops was added, plus a few grams of Irish Moss to help the beer clear. We found that with the lid in place, the wort boiled over somewhat messily, so most of the boil was done in the open boiler. Naturally, after 90 minutes of boiling, the volume had reduced a fair bit, and we ended up with about 13 litres to go into the fermentation bucket.

Into the fermenting bin

Next came the long, tedious wait for the wort to cool to a temperature when the yeast could be pitched. I had a great little pot of live moose-like yeast kindly given to me by Jay Krause of the Quantum Brewery in Stockport. I first drew off enough wort to take an original gravity reading, and once the wort reached 30°C, I added the yeast. I had to wait a little longer before taking the OG, as my hydrometer is calibrated for 20°C. It didn’t reach this temperature until about midnight, when the OG was measured at 1.064. I made a note and went to bed.

The following morning I boiled up 7 litres of water, and when it had cooled to the same temperature as the now busily fermenting wort, I added 6 litres to the fermenting bin. Adding the extra water had two vital effects. The target volume for the brew was 19 litres, at which volume the OG was lowered to the target of 1.042. It also ensured that I’d get the correct quantity of beer from the brew. If I’d left the volume low and gone with the 1.064 gravity, the resulting brew would have been considerably stronger, but the taste would probably have been adversely affected.

First thing the following morning, the fermentation had really taken off.

The recipe I followed was for a beer of similar characteristics to Timothy Taylor Landlord. This is a great beer, and a fairly simple recipe, so is ideal for a first brew. As I write this, it is nearly five days since fermentation began. I’m expecting it to be completed in another couple of days, and then I plan to put the beer into a cask for finishing. I’ll let you know how it tastes in a few weeks.

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Posted by on 17 February, 2012 in Cask Ale, Home Brewing

 

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Ephemerale 2009 Imperial Russian Stout

In a previous blog (An Imp is Born), I described the early stages of the production of a home-brewed Imperial Russian Stout, and I mentioned that I had a bottle of a previous version of this beer, Ephemerale 2009 Imperial Russian Stout, which I was saving until Christmas. On Boxing Day, I finally opened it. It had been maturing for over two years and the bottle opened with a pleasing hiss. The beer poured black and smooth with a light brown head of tightly packed bubbles.

Ephemerale 2009 Imperial Russian Stout

The aroma was rich dark chocolate, which followed through into the taste. Strong spirituous overtones were felt right from the start. The taste was very dark and bitter, with notes of alcoholic fruit and a hint of spice. Very warming with a real alcoholic punch. It’s fantastic. There is simply no way that this tastes like a home-brewed beer.

I wondered how strong it was, so I left a tiny drop of it to go flat overnight and dribbled it into a small vinometer which I use to get approximate ABV readings. Now it’s not a scientific instrument, and the values it gives can only be treated as approximate, but the level settled at around 11%.

I will be starting brewing my own beer in a couple of weeks, and I think I’ve just seen what I am ultimately aiming at.

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Posted by on 11 January, 2012 in Bottled Beer, Home Brewing

 

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An Imp is Born

Last Saturday saw 2011’s reenactment of a now annual ritual in the household of my esteemed friend Dr Tristan Robinson. This is the time of year when the Imp is born. Tristan is an adventurous home-brewer, and for some years now has produced an annual Imperial Russian Stout. The first Imperial Russian Stouts (or ‘Imps’, for ease of typing) were produced by Thrale’s brewery of London, for export to the court of the Tsarina Catherine II of Russia. In 1781, Thrale’s Brewery was taken over by Barclay Perkins, and later by Courage. Tristan uses the recipe for the original Courage Imperial Russian Stout when preparing his own Ephemerale Imp.

Imps are very dark, very rich beers with high ABV, typically in the range 8 – 12%. The malts used in the Ephemerale brew are Pale, Crystal, Chocolate and Black. Whilst Tristan has just invested in a half-barrel plant, this is still stacked somewhat haphazardly in his garage on a windy Lancashire hilltop, so for now, the old plastic buckets would have to do. The 40 pint plastic boiler has a stretchable bag in which the malt (and later the hops) can be placed in the boiling liquor and which allows the solid ingredients to be removed without fuss in due time. This simple system effectively converts the boiler into a working mash tun. After the mashing, the malt is lifted clear of the liquor (now technically wort) and can then be sparged (rinsed) with clean water to wash the sugars out of the malt and into the hot wort.

The malt is lifted out of the liquor after the mashing

Once the wort has stood for a while, hops are added for flavour. The hops are introduced into the wort in the bag, the used malt grains being emptied out and given to the chickens to eat (they go mad for it).

Used malt – destined for the chickens

The hops used in this brew were an aromatic mix of Fuggles, Hallertau and Nelson Sauvin.

Preparing the hops for the wort

The brewing vessel was placed outside for this hour-long rolling boil. Once this boil is over, the hops are removed and the wort is boiled again to reduce it. This has the effect of thickening and concentrating the liquid. It took about an hour and a half to reduce the wort to the desired level.

Final boil

The wort is then passed into a fermenting vessel and left to cool to about 25C. Here the cold windy hilltop comes into its own. Once the correct temperature is achieved, yeast is added to the wort, and fermentation begins. The beer can then be racked into demijohns to complete the fermentation process. It takes several months to complete the fermentation, after which the beer can be clarified if necessary, and bottled. This particular Imp matures for two years, with the odd cheeky little taste along the way just to make sure that all’s well.

The reduced wort is poured into a fermenting vessel

I have a bottle of Ephemerale 2009 Imp in my beer store, waiting for Christmas Day. I had a little taster of this one a few months ago, before it reached its two-year anniversary, and it was tasting extremely fine. (Tasting notes for the 2009 Imp are here).

I look forward to the day in 2013 when I get to taste this year’s brew!

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Posted by on 2 December, 2011 in Home Brewing

 

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