Tag Archives: Sarah Hughes Dark Ruby

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.


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.

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.

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 20 April, 2012 in Home Brewing


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