Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Brew I - Lessons learned

I've been brewing fruit wines since my father took the hobby whilst I was a child. I remember being fascinated by what he was up to, probably because it was like some kind of mad science experiment with all the vivid colours in clear glass demijohns and mystical bubbling arilocks. I performed a few brews in the form of mostly Strawberry wines and Elderberry wines and had varied sucess. I still have some elderberry in the rack that I made when I was 12 years old and its certainly among the best wine I've ever tasted, or certainly made at least.

Beer was always a bit more adventurous a bit more mysterious and complicated, with many wine making books including recipes but no real confidence inspiring reasoning behind the beer brewing process. I attempted one 20pint brew from a Boots Lager kit using granulated sugar to make up the gravity as instructed on the packet. The result was horrendous..... but to be fair I really didn't know what I was doing and so since the age of 15 I stopped homebrewing and pursued other interests.

During my Biology & Microbiology Degree @ Warwick University UK my interest in brewing grew again in the form of a new challenge. I was oringinally looking at producing large quantities or ginger beer and searching for recipes etc on the internet. These searches obviously turned up a lot of beer making websites. These mostly american sites were an inspiration, here people have proudly posted photos and descriptions of their home breweries with often plans, recipes & all the detail involved. I realised that most of the equipment can be home made, is relatively cheap and that brewing beer although can be achieved by somebody with only a small amount of scientific knowledge could pose a vast challenge to somebody like myself wanting to get into the hows and why's of this fundamentally microbiological industry.

Brew I
I borrowed my mothers 2gal jam pansion, recovered an old boots pressure barrel (which cost me £2.50 at a car boot sale) and bought a fermentor for £10 from Wilcos. So I was ready for my first brew using simple malt extract. The intelligent thing to do I know now would have been to visit my local home brew store and buy a simple canned kit to start off with which with the addition of extra malt extract (never add sugar) would have produced me a very drinkable first beer. Instead I went to the homebrew shop, bought a bit of everything including some assorted packs of dried hops which at the time I had no clue about and went about bodging some recipes I found on the internet. The result was drinkable but not the bitter that it was planned to be. It was a dark stout through using a can of dark malt and ludicrously over hopped as I had guestimated my hop weights instead of working out the AAU's and kettle utilization of the hops bitterness.
Trial and error - often the best way to learn. I learnt a lot in this first brew and most of all about dispensing the beer. The pressure barrel is useless without a compressed gas system! The best option I found was I bought a "stainless steel tyre valve" and bolted it into the top, using this with a hand held CO2 bicycle tyre inflator to pressurise the beer.

Matt

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