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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
And 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…