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.
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.
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