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Cock Ale

A cock

A cock

 

I have an old, yellowed, second-hand book on my beer shelves. It’s called “Amateur Winemaking & Brewing”, and is a Teach-Yourself book published in 1974. The focus is clearly on winemaking, as of the book’s 271 pages, only the final seven are dedicated to beer recipes. There are nine, and the last one is for Cock Ale. Now we’ve all heard of cock ale, it’s something to snigger about when a beer or two too many has regressed you to schoolboyhood.

The book describes a method for making a 4 gallon batch of what it calls ‘full-bodied and strong beer’. I’ve never made it, but I suspect that ‘strong’ in 1974 probably meant anything over about 4%. To make the cock ale, it suggests that when the specific gravity has fallen to 1010, 1 pint of grape concentrate be added to the fermenting wort, along with 1 lb of ‘chicken giblets, scraps, etc. (cooked)’ placed in a net. I should point out that the parenthetical ‘cooked’ is very important. The beer, it goes on to say, should be bottled when the  specific gravity reaches about 1006.

To quote directly from the book; ‘Although the presence of the chicken scraps does give the beer flavour and body, the idea is not to everyone’s taste’. Quite.

I decided that this recipe seemed rather watered-down from what may well have been a much more ‘interesting’ original recipe, so I dug a little deeper.

The first known reference to cock ale is in the 1669 book “The Closet of the Eminently Learned Sir Kenelme Digby Kt., Opened”. I quote from the opened closet:

‘Take eight gallons of ale, take a cock and boil him well, then take four pounds of raisins of the sun, well stoned, two or three nutmegs, three or four flakes of mace, half a pound of dates; beat these all in a mortar, and put to them two quarts of the best sack*; and when the ale hath done working, put these in, and stop it close six or seven days, and then bottle it, and a month after you may drink it.’

*sack = a sort of white sherry.

Mmmm… this looks lovely. And have you noticed in old recipes they always used massive quantities – “Take eight gallons of ale…”

In 1726, this recipe was given by John Nott, the Duke of Bolton’s cook, in his “Cooks and Confectioner’s Dictionary”:

‘Take a couple of young cocks, boil them almost to a jelly in water, and put into four gallons of ale; put in also a pound of raisins of the sun stoned; infuse a pound of dates, mace and nutmegs, of each two ounces, in a quart of canary*; put them to the ale; strain and squeeze out the liquor, and put to it half a pint of new ale yeast. Let it work for a day; you may drink it the next but it is better the third day; you may make it weaker by mingling it with plain ale as you draw it, or you may put it into a firkin of ale. It is good against consumption and to restore decayed nature.’

*canary = another name for sack.

This looks to me like a version of the first recipe written down by someone who had actually made it. It’s also one of my favourites because not only does it mention ‘cock’, but also ‘firkin’. Fnarr, fnarr.

In her 1727 cookery book, “The Compleat Housewife, or, The Accomplish’d Gentlewoman’s Companion”, Eliza Smith goes for the massiveness record with this by now quite familiar recipe:

‘Take ten gallons of ale, and a large cock, the older the better; parboil the cock, flay him, and stamp him in a stone mortar till his bones are broken (you must craw and gut him when you flay him); then put the cock into two quarts of sack, and put it to three pounds of raisins of the sun stoned, some blades of mace, and a few cloves; put all these into a canvas bag, and a little before you find the ale has done working, put the ale and bag together into a vessel; in a week or nine days time bottle it up; fill the bottle but just above the neck, and give the same time to ripen as other ale.’

I have seen this particular recipe quoted on the internet, but instead of “flay him” it has been typed as “flea him”. Do not under any circumstances attempt to flea your cock.

In “Homebrewed Beers and Stouts” by that doyen of mid-20th century homebrewers, C. J. J. Berry (1977), the adventurous Cyril modified this original recipe and brewed an experimental one gallon batch. On tasting the result, he wrote: ‘Astonishingly, it made an excellent ale, nourishing and strong-flavoured, of the ‘barley wine’ type; well worth trying.’

More recently, Chris Thomas and Adam Cusick reported their own experiments with cock ale in Beer & Brewing Magazine (Australia). Their recipe was quite modified to cater for modern tastes, but included the all important cooked chicken, which they got from a supermarket. So technically it was more likely to have been hen ale.

They report: ‘At one month the beer showed great potential. It poured a dark amber colour with a foamy head. Howard was offered the first taste of the Cock Ale and was rapt with the added bitterness of the bullet hops and impressed by the obvious benefits of a quality yeast. He also recognised the superior head. And thankfully it didn’t taste like drinking a roast chicken!

‘In terms of aroma, the cloves are first identifiable, along with the pleasant hint of oak from the dry white. The spices, raisins and wine really enhance the flavour of this freshly hopped strong ale, while the major impact of the chicken has been to add great body to the beer.

‘Two months later, the second tasting reveals the beer to have matured into what Berry accurately described as an ‘excellent ale’! While the hops have mellowed nicely, the distinctive spices remained. The beer shared distinct similarities with a strong Belgian ale.’

The recipes from the 17th and 18th century are remarkably consistent. It may have been commonplace to chuck kitchen scraps into whatever happened to be fermenting away in a corner, and by happy accident, someone discovered that an old cock is just what beer needs to liven it up.

I’m tempted, almost, to try it myself. It’s not only the presence of meat in the ale (guff, guff!), but also the odd spices – mace and cloves – that I find intriguing.

Go on – someone give it a go and let us know how it turned out. You can write it up and I’ll publish it as a guest blog. Ah, go on. Go on, go on, go on, go on, go on!

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Posted by on 26 March, 2013 in Home Brewing

 

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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!

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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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Quantum Brewery, Stockport

On my Christmas pub crawl round Manchester last year, I visited the excellent Port Street Beer House. Whilst there, I sampled an Imperial Russian Stout (with cranberries) from a brewery I had not heard of before – Quantum.

I posted my review of the Port Street Beer House and the beers I drank there – including the Quantum Impy (I loved it, but couldn’t taste the cranberries) – here on my blog. Shortly afterwards, I received a tweet from Jay Krause, owner and head brewer of Quantum brewery promising to add more cranberries next time he brewed it. During the following few days, we passed messages back and forth and Jay revealed that the recipe for the impy was one that he had adapted from a homebrew recipe. Growing more curious by the minute, I arranged to meet Jay in the brewery the following week.

Inconspicuous – apart from the smell

The Quantum Brewery is located in a single unit of a very small industrial estate in Stockport. There are no big ‘Welcome to Quantum Brewery’ signs, but as I climbed out of my car in the tiny courtyard, my nose told me I was in the right place. The alluring aroma of mashing malt led me straight to the right door.

I had arrived at the end of the mash, and the grains were being sparged. Although normally a solo brewer, today Jay had an assistant, a young lad employed by a local pub and being trained in the art of brewing.

Jay and I sat down with a cup of coffee – from a cafetière, no less, and let the obviously more than capable young chap get on with it. Jay is late-twenties, long-haired and gentle voiced, and he told me about how he bought Dukinfield’s Shaw’s Brewery when it came up for sale. It was run down, and little more than a hobby brewery by the time. Unfortunately the premises did not come as part of the deal, and he had to search around to find suitable premises to set up his new brewery. He got the keys to his current premises on the 1st April, 2011. The brewery’s key words are ‘local’ and ‘quality’. Everything is sourced as locally as possible, and to as high a quality as possible.

Quantum produces three regular beers – Bitter (3.8%), Stout (4.8%) and American Amber Ale (5.3%), plus a number of one-off beers, seasonal specials and a couple of series beers – Fleur series (using different flowers in each brew) and a single-hop IPA series which so far has included Motueka hops (New Zealand), Super Alpha hops (New Zealand), Nelson Sauvin hops (New Zealand), Willamette hops (United States), Summit hops (United States) and Aramis hops (France).

As you can probably tell, Jay is an experimenter. He’s been home brewing for eight years, and clearly has a talent for coming up with exciting and great tasting beer. His enthusiasm for brewing is infectious. ‘Look here,’ he says at one point. We squeeze between the brewery’s two fermenters and he points out a bucket of homebrew tucked in behind them.

‘Try this,’ he says, pouring a little beer out of another homebrew barrel. The beer was not fully ready for presentation, it was pretty cloudy, but the taste was incredible. Rich, thick, exceptionally smooth malt flavours present at the start, and just as you’re thinking ‘Oh, that’s nice!’ the hops leap out of nowhere and smack you in the taste buds. Quite sensational. He looks ruefully at the beer. ‘I can’t afford to make that one commercially – the hops are far too expensive, and as it runs to about 8.5%, the duty would be crippling.’

Quantum currently runs a 5 barrel plant, supplying 50 or 60 outlets, and sells everything that it produces. He’s running at full capacity and needs to expand. Demand is understandably high for the amazing beers produced by this tiny little start-up brewery.

As I take my leave, Jay presents me with an unlabelled bottle. ‘It’s SK1,’ he says. This is Quantum’s 7.4% barley wine. The labels for the bottles are still at the (local) printers.

I drank the SK1 (Stockport’s premier postcode) a couple of weeks later. It’s a deep ruby red in colour and has a rich fruity smell. The fruit carries through into the taste, but with an added bitterness. As the wonderful mouthful of fruit fades, it is replaced by hops, leading to a long, bitter finish. Absolutely cracking stuff, and I for one will be heading to the Stockport beer festival in June, where a barrel of SK1 will be available.

Quantum SK1 Barley wine

As I’m leaving, I mention to Jay that he just seems like a home brewer with bigger buckets than most of us. He nods, ‘Yeah,’ he says, ‘it’s really a hobby that just got out of control’.

So, if you spot an interesting beer on the bar, and see that it’s from Quantum Brewery, take a tip from me – buy with confidence!

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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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