Monday, March 12, 2012

Home brewing: the start of an obsession?

20 x 500ml bottles of Black Rock Pilsner

As a kid, I grew up with home brew. My dad had a whole heap in the garage or in the hot water cupboard, and I distinctly remember that malty sweet smell of the wert pre-mixing. So I guess I was always going to end up giving it a go at some stage. Little did I know it would take over my thoughts as much as it has! Despite the fat that I've only put down two brews so far, and despite only tasting one of them, I can't help but elaborately plan the next one in my mind. In the meantime, and to distract me, here's a run down of my initial brewing experience.

Batch 1: Coopers Real Ale

Method: Kit
Ingredients: Kit, Cane Sugar
Original Gravity: 1040
Final Gravity: 1010
ABV: 4.5%
Bottles: Glass, 750ml, 500ml, 330ml.
Bottled: 26-01-2012

After talking about beer one afternoon, my friend and neighbour Caleb rocked around a week later with a fermenter and related gear he had found cheap on trade me. He also picked up our first kit, a Coopers Real Ale. A week or so later, after sanitising all our gear, we got to work.

Unfortunately we didn't really do much other than follow the instructions. We used white (cane) sugar, and only found out after the brew was fermenting that it's cane sugar that creates the cidery, sour taste usually associated with home brew. Apparently things have come a long way, and using Beer Enhancers or different fermentables (such as extract or other kinds of sugars) is now the way to go. We also had no o-ring on our lid, took hydrometer readings by removing the lid, and when we bottled, we didn't invert the bottles to mix in the priming sugar.

Nonetheless, considering the primitive method and lack of temperature control (it stood alone in the garage), the brew came out a nice copper/amber colour, with plenty of bubbles and a nice head. After two weeks the beer really was quite cidery, but with age it has improved considerably. Last I checked it was very drinkable, but still had that slight cane sugar taste and lacked complexity.

We used a number of bottle sizes, to experiment with taste and because I think 750ml would be too much for us to drink if you only wanted a glass after work. So my bottle of choice is now the 500ml short, stubby bottles as used by Emersons.

Getting serious

Having discovered some books and websites, I decided to get a bit more serious. Again, trade me came to the rescue — I managed to pick up an old Kelvinator fridge that had been converted to a brew room, complete with heat lamps and thermostat, for a mere $30! This means we can brew at a set temperature all year round. Fitted it with a temperature gauge and removable shelves for bottle conditioning at controlled temps. I also picked up a better air-lock, temperature sticker for the fermenter, and an o-ring for a better seal.

Lights on in the warm box/fridge. Screws are to hold the shelf at back for bottle conditioning.

Batch 2: Black Rock Export Pilsner

Method: Kit
Ingredients: Kit, Copper Tun Pilsner Beer Enhancer
Original Gravity: 1.040
Final Gravity: 1.020
ABV: 3.2%
Bottles: Glass, 750ml, 500ml, 330ml.
Bottled: 01-03-2012

I wanted to try out a Pilsner, so we grabbed the Black Rock Export Pilsner Kit and this time used a Copper Tun Beer Enhancer, which is a sugar replacement containing dextrose, hops, malt extract, and other goodies. This is not a true Pilsner as it uses an ale yeast an ferments at higher temperatures (real lagers use lager yeast at cooler temps), but is still meant to be quite nice.

The smell and taste of the initial mix was considerably nicer than the first batch. You could smell a little bit of aroma from the Copper Tun—not heaps, but enough to be excited. Stirred in the yeast this time, and put it in the warmer at around 24 degrees. The airlock did its thing and so we waited a few days before taking a reading.

For some reason, the hydrometer never recorded anything below 1.020. I was worried about this, but a check online showed that many kits never reach their intended gravity. So we left it to ferment for a total of 10 days, making sure that fermentation had ceased and that the readings were constant. We bottled it using carbonated drops, and the beer itself looked a golden yellow. Smelt great too, a little bit hoppy but not super aromatic. Back into the fridge it went for a further 5 days at 20 degrees.

We're waiting a little bit to try this beer. This Thursday will be 2 weeks in the bottle, so after that I'd say. The beer has cleared heaps, has a good bubble in the bottle when inverted, and fingers crossed, will taste good. Bit gutted about the final gravity, but we'll see. Check back for an update! [CLICK HERE]

What's next?

I do want to give extract brewing a go and use malts and hops to get more control over the process, but for now I'd be happy with 2 or 3 really good kit styles, successfully customised and brewed. Next time around on the Pilsner I think I'll add my own hops—maybe whole hopped in the fermenter during the mix, and some dry hopping later on. Thinking Motueka Hops, or maybe Riwaka (as Emersons uses that and it would be interesting to compare).

Next batch I want to do is a bitter, maybe an APA, or even an IPA. There's some good write ups on the Coopers Brewmaster IPA kit that is apparently quite hoppy, so could try that with some added hops.

Also found a great home brew blog called Beer and Garden by Aidan in Nelson, which has been helpful and is definitely worth checking out.

1 comment:

Aidan Curran said...

Hey Jared,
Getting into hops and grains will definately take your beer to the next level. It's not hard but does take a bit more time than mixing up a kit but you will feel more in control of what you're brewing and the results for me have been really good.
Aidan (