We’re at the end of the year, at the end of the project, and about to find out if it was all worth it.

I run through the final few days, announce the name and open up that first bottle with an international beer judge…

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So, here we are. The year has flown by and it seems like just yesterday that I was standing on a freezing cold allotment with a pile of rubbish to clear. We’ve come full circle and, finally, I’m ready to open up the first bottle. After much procrastination and consideration I finally settled on a design and name – I went round and around in circles, trying to come up with the name that best described the ingredients, the project or the place from which it all came, and that is when it struck me. The place already had a name, it had been there the whole time. The plot is called 10S, and once I realised this there was no way I could call the beer anything else.

The final label design for 10S

The final label design for 10S

Adrian assessing the first bottle...

Adrian assessing the first bottle…

To make my life harder, I decided not to tuck myself up in Richard for an hour to open the first one. Instead, I enlisted the help of British Beer Writer of the Year and international beer judge Adrian Tierney-Jones to open up the very first bottle of 10S and critically evaluate it. This led to an extremely tense few days in the run-up to the big day, whilst the 30 minutes immediately before he poured out the first bottle was excruciating. I was quickly relieved though, for he popped off the cap to a pleasing hiss before slowly talking me through the appearance, the aroma, flavour, mouthfeel and finish, taking each into consideration before deciding on his overall view. And, his verdict…?
The beer was good. Not just okay, or drinkable as I had hoped for, but actually good. Cue huge relief, leaning back in my chair and very large grin on my face.
This wasn’t the only surprise of the evening though, as 10S didn’t come out as the hoppy, English Pale Ale that I thought it would. It was hazy as expected and coloured a deep amber, but instead of the floral, fruity or grassy aromas I was expecting from the fuggles there were spicy, clove and banana from the yeast. The hops were very subtle, only really notable for the smooth bitterness that gave way to a soft, bready sweetness that let the barley join the party. Despite my fears about getting the bottling right the carbonation was pretty good, resulting in a soft white head and good lacing around the glass, whilst the mouthfeel was full with a really rather nice, dry finish.

All in all then, 10S was far closer to a German style of Weisse/wheat beer than a traditional British one, which has to be down to the yeasts that came from the plot. I think the rainwater played its part too, as the flavours flowed together rather than competing, none of them aggressive. I’m putting this down to the very soft nature of the water, providing a neutral, clear base on which to place the other ingredients, one that didn’t favour hop bitterness or malty tones to come through on top.
I would have enjoyed drinking the beer regardless of how it came out, but for it to be drinkable to the point of Adrian suggesting that it wouldn’t have any trouble in the first round of a major competition was a wonderful outcome! There will be more posts to come over the next week and we’ll properly look back at the project and year, but for now, I’m taking a day or two to relax. The weekend was a blur of TV, filming, radio and the first tastings, so I’m going to put my feet up for a minute, rather chuffed that that the little allotment and it’s resulting beer, 10S, did me so proud.

In this, the penultimate episode, we’ve safely navigated the brew but I’ve still got to guide the beer through the fermentation, bottling, naming and labelling.

I catch up with graphic designer Jim Vine and look back on some astonishing numbers from the year so far…

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It’s the start of November and after 11 months of digging, growing and harvesting we’ve finally arrived at the big day – it’s time to combine the barley, hops, water and yeast and get on with the brew!

I’m not on my own though, as I’ll be going through the process with friend and brewer John Magill of Powderkeg Brewery…

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It’s the last activity on the allotment as I work out how to judge when the hops are ripe before picking and drying them ahead of the brew.

I then catch up with Jake at Crisp Malting to find out how that precious little sack of barley fared being soaked, dried and kilned in the maltings…

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Naming the beer has long been at the bottom of my list of things to consider, let alone worry about, as over the past 10 months I’ve had the growing, harvesting and brewing on my mind. Now, however, I’m faced with 45 bottles, each conditioning ahead of their opening in 2 weeks time and as nice as I think they look, all lined up and shiny, I need to do them justice with a decent label and, therefore, a name.

I’m not particularly keen on puns or innuendo, and I want the name to reflect either the project, the ingredients or the journey so far. Whilst searching for inspiration I asked the good people of social media, and got back lots of suggestions – some more appropriate than others, but all of them offered an idea or perspective on the year to date. I’m still not 100% clear on what I’m going to go for, but considering that the labels will need to be printed in a few days time it won’t be long until I let you know!

The full list of suggestions is:

  • Bottles beerAleotment
  • All Nature’s Work
  • Alloted
  • Allotment Ale
  • Allotment Gold
  • Autarkic
  • Beer has grown
  • Ben’s Brilliant Bottle of Beer
  • Ben’s Sacrifice
  • Cleveland Steam Beer
  • Graining Blood
  • Grass Roots
  • Ground to Glass
  • Growing Beer
  • Grown
  • Homegrown
  • Homegrown Gold
  • Offya McOffyaFace
  • Richard
  • Richard II
  • Square Yard
  • Urban Struggle
  • Weary Reaper
  • Yard Graft

It’s a day that has been getting gradually nearer as I move through the various harvests and now it’s finally upon us – Brew Day. I’ve picked and malted the barley, the hops have been harvested, dried and frozen, the rainwater is filtered and I’ve identified 2 yeasts from the plot, so there was nothing left to do but get on and make that beer.

Testing

As these 4 ingredients have been coming together I’ve been trying to remove as much risk from the big day as possible, mainly by running a few different tests:

  • Brewing with rainwater to see how it behaves in the mash and boil phases
  • brewing with the 2 yeast strains found on the plot (Metschniakowia and Hanseniaspora) and
  • making up small hop teas to get an idea of the aroma and bitterness of my 4 varieties

These tests not only helped to practice the brew and check the equipment, but they also gave me a really clear idea of how suitable, or not, my ingredients were.

Final ingredients

The rainwater passed with flying colours, whilst of the 4 hop varieties the Fuggles came out on top. The Perle and Goldings were subtle, the UK Cascade was a little earthy and missing the fruity notes it is known for, but the Fuggles smelled fresh, floral and grassy, subsequently making it into the final recipe.

The yeasts both fermented, but not all the way through. At best they worked their way through 15-20% of the sugar available, so unless I fancy producing a largely unfermented, sweet and quite likely sickly beer I’m going to have to add another yeast in too. I think with more time and an earlier start on the Cerevisiae hunt I could have found one, but it wasn’t to be this year, so I decided that the allotment yeasts would get a head start but then be followed up by a fairly neutral, domestic brewing yeast.

The Brew

Suddenly, there we were – 11 months into Growing Beer and I was stood with my friend and brewer John Magill at his brewery (Powderkeg), looking over my final ingredients. Because the batch size would be about 15 litres I opted to use an electric all-in-one unit, which contrasted comically with the enormous conical fermentation vessels in the background. It’s a unit I’ve used several times before and shouldn’t throw up any surprises, but I had John’s years of experience on hand should we need to deviate from the plan.

Brewing equipment

Fortunately though, we didn’t. The mash (the first stage, in which the malted barley is steeped in hot water for an hour) went well, with the 3.9kg of pale malted barley producing roughly 15 litres of sweet wort at approx 13 brix/1.050 SG (a measurement of the sugar in the liquid, which should see me on course to brew a 5% beer).

The boil involved adding in the single hops that I had chosen, so some Fuggles at the start of a 60 minute rolling boil, more halfway through and the last bit right at the end to provide an overall mix of bitterness and aroma. The now hoppy wort cooled quickly and was ready for the yeast, that I had collected earlier that day from the University, to be pitched – the allotment strains were added first so they could have a head start on the domesticated Saccharomyces Cerevisiae that I would add in a few hours later.

Ready for fermentingAnd that was it – 5 hours flew by and before I knew it I was cleaning down the equipment, packing it away and strapping my precious 15 litre tub into the front seat of the car and gently driving it back home. It would now spend the next 7-9 days in a cool spot of my old kitchen (where it stays a fairly constant 18 degrees celsius), where we’ll hopefully see all of the yeasts work through the sugars and create the final beer.

The waiting is driving me mad, as I have no idea how the beer will taste, how the hops and barley will come through in the final tasting and how those yeasts are going to behave now they have their mitts on those fermentable sugars. I shan’t have to wait too long though, as at the very end of November I’ll be opening the first bottle and seeing if it was all worth it…

It’s the end of August and it’s harvest time! We’ve sort-of survived the summer and now I need to bring in the barley, regardless of how much or how little is still there.

I also catch up with beer writer Mark Dredge to get some advice on beer styles and what to consider should I get to that final tasting…

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July is now behind me, and I couldn’t be happier to see the back of it. The British summer has caused serious problems – problems that cause me to question whether we’ll even get to the harvest.

As well as looking at how the ingredients are coming along I also pay a visit to a brewery to talk brewing equipment with their resident brewster, in case I get that far…

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It’s mid-June, and the plot feels as if it’s all starting to come together. The hops are off up the strings like rockets, the barley has spread out to create a rich, if a little short, canopy and now I’ve closed the tap the water butt is filling up nicely.

I start the process of collecting samples to be analysed by 2 researchers at the LSI lab at the University of Exeter and experience my first taste of storm damage…

Don’t forget, you can subscribe to the podcast through iTunes or Stitcher, whilst I’ll be adding more players/services soon.

If you’ve enjoyed the episode please rate it, review it or share it – it makes a big difference to how many people can discover and join us!

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