Monday, 18 September 2017

Homegrown Hops

Grow It Yourself

Hops are expensive, for homebrewers 100g of dried hops can cost anything up to £6+ a pack. This makes brewing super hoppy American style pale ales quite an expensive process. So in my never-ending quest to spend less money I bought and planted two hop plants (Prima Donna or First Gold variety) early last year. After 3-4 weeks of nothing happening there was a sudden burst of activity, several shoots appeared from the ground and rapidly scaled the fence. The blurb which came with the plants warned me to expect very little in the first year, which was fortunate as very little was precisely what I got. It is not until the third year that the plant will reach its full potential so I was not expecting much extra this year. Once again in early March several shoots appeared and grew rapidly up and along my fence, however this year I picked over 1.6kg of fresh hops which I dried in a food dehyrator down to a dry weight of 350g.

The hop fence
There's something quite satisfying about growing your own hops for brewing although given that the hop plants cost £18 I'm still out of pocket as 350g of First Gold only costs about £14. Next year I should get a bigger harvest and I can also split the hop rhizomes to get more plants, so over time I should save a bit of money. I also found hops growing wild near me last year so in early March I dug up some rhizomes and planted cuttings in my garden. I don't know the variety but they do smell great, and for a first year's crop I've done pretty well, far better than last year's bought plants. These hops aren't quite ready to pick yet but when they are I'll brew a green hop beer.

Wild Hops
Last year I dried my meagre harvest on the window sill, but this took too long and the end result was poor. This year I have used a food dehydrator which has given great results. I dried 500g of fresh hops down to 110g in 10-12 hours, with the dehydrator at the lowest heat setting of 35°C. Higher temperatures than this risk burning off the much sought-after but volatile hop oils.

Food Dehydrator
In conclusion I have to say that growing hops is very straightforward, they require very little special care and for a homebrewer it's a satisfying and interesting experience.

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Strong Bitter Tasting

Extra Strong, Extra Special

It's a glorious hot summer's day in sunny Manchester so the perfect opportunity to drink a chilled glass of Extra Strong/Special Bitter (ESB).

This is the beer I brewed on 9th June (recipe here) and took to Manchester Beer Week Homebrew Expo after only two weeks conditioning. Ideally I should have left it for a few more weeks so after more than four weeks in bottles I think it's time for another taste.
Disappointingly it's still a bit hazy but that aside I am very pleased with this. At 5.1% abv it has a bit of a boozy kick but is still very drinkable, which is a slight worry as it's not exactly a session ale. It's not hoppy, but neither is it too bitter at 35 IBU's. The malt flavours are more prevalent but it's not too sweet, overall a very pleasant, traditional style ESB.


Quick update, after another four weeks the beer is now crystal clear! Once again standard homebrewing rules apply; if it's not right at first just leave it for a while, it won't get any worse and might just improve.

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Manchester Beer Week Homebrew Expo

Free Beer!

Manchester Beer Week finished on Sunday 2nd July with the now regular Homebrew Expo organised by Manchester Homebrew and held at Beer Nouveau in Ardwick. 16 homebrewers presented free samples of 50+ beers, covering all styles, to discerning drinkers. There were two competitions; "A Beer For Manchester", judged by a distinguished group of drunks experts and a Best in Show award voted for by expo visitors.

A piss up in a brewery

I brought along an exciting range of traditional bottled beers but there was also loads of keg and even one cask beer. A few highlights for me were a Banoffee Wheat Beer (it actually tasted like banoffee!), a Rye IPA (I must use some rye malt soon) and the beer judged to be winner of the Beer for Manchester competition, "Cosmetically Challenged" a New England IPA brewed by Tom, which would stand up to anything made by a commercial brewer. The Best In Show beer was another great example of a NEIPA, "Lazaretto" brewed by my fellow Chorlton Homebrewer Simon. There were loads of other great beers as well, too many to mention. The overwhelming impression I got from the expo was the sheer high quality and vast range of homebrewed beer and it has definitely inspired me to try a few new things.


I took samples of five beers and even made the effort to label them using Beer Labelizer once I had thought of names for all five.

Four of my five beers (the Alt bier is missing)

The beers I took to the Expo were:

I'm pleased to say that all five were well received and I was really thrilled with all the positive feedback I got from visitors and judges alike. My highest scoring beer in the Best in Show award was my most recent brew, the strong bitter "Strong & Stable" which achieved an average score of 7.8/10. If I had been able to give it a bit longer to condition it may have scored even higher.

Special thanks have to go to Connor and Jai for organising Manchester Beer Week, Steve at Beer Nouveau for the use of his brewery and Craig and Rich from the Manchester Homebrew group for arranging the expo.

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Bottling - Strong Bitter

No Caps!

Time to bottle the Strong Bitter brewed on the 9th of July. Fortunately I realised just before starting that I only had silver caps which I'd already used on my Best Bitter previously. Since I normally can't be arsed with labels I tend to use different coloured caps to distinguish between beers, especially important for two beers similar in colour. So after a quick trip to the local homebrew shop I was ready. The final gravity was 1.010 (exactly as forecast) - giving me 5.1% abv. I filled 28 x 330ml , 21 x 500ml and one 750ml swing top as I almost ran out of bottles.

Thursday, 15 June 2017

Best Bitter Tasting

This is better best bitter

After the slightly disappointing result of my previous homebrew effort I was hoping that my recent attempt at a best bitter would deliver a more acceptable outcome. Fortunately it has! This is much better, nicely balanced, not too sweet and not too bitter. A very traditional tasting English ale, and totally clear as well!

Look! You can see through this one!

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Another Pale Ale Tasting

Hazy, Cloudy, Murky

Time to finally report on the Pale Ale brewed on April 27th. I have tried this a few times since I bottled it but left it until now in the vain hope it might clear. Unfortunately it hasn't done so.

Usually I can see the logos on the other side of the glass through the beer, but not in this case so something is not quite right. Admittedly I did forget to add the Irish Moss to the boil but I've done that in the past and the beer has always cleared up a lot more than this one. On the bright side it is still quite drinkable, there is a bit of hop aroma and the carbonation is ok, but it has that hint of homebrew tang that reminds me of cheap kits brewed with sugar. I'm not entirely sure what went wrong and hazy beer is not a bad thing in itself. If I'd planned to brew a cloudy beer it would be fine, but I didn't so it's not.


Friday, 9 June 2017

Brewday - 09/06/2017 Strong Bitter

Leftover Beer

I had sufficient spare ingredients left for one more brew, so I decided to make a strong bitter.

Recipe (BIAB):

  • Mash for 1 hr at 67°C
  • Boil for 60 mins
  • Mash water volume 30lt
  • Maris Otter 4.4kg
  • Crystal Malt 150g
  • Carapils 140g
  • Chocolate malt 12g 
  • Saaz 50g (60 mins)
  • Saaz 25g (15 mins)
  • Goldings 20g (15 mins)
  • Cluster 20g (15 mins)
  • Irish Moss 1 tsp (15 mins)
  • Goldings 22g (at turn off)
  • Gervin GV12 English Ale Yeast 11g pack
  • Cluster 22g (dry hopped 4 days)
  • Recipe in Brewers Friend


I got 23lt in the fermenter, the OG was 1.050 (slightly higher than expected!) and hopefully it should finish around 1.010 (5.1% abv) with 35 IBU's.
 Fermentation is going well!