Brew Year’s Resolutions

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Last year was a really exciting year for our little brewery. It felt like we took a big step forward, with two highlights being a tap takeover at The Vic in Colchester, and later in the year getting to brew a beer with two of my favourite brewers (and people).

We brewed 25 different batches of beer, and sold 2,660 litres of beer to 11 different customers.

For a weekend side project, that’s quite a lot of beer. It meant brewing, racking or cleaning almost every weekend – as well as all the paperwork - which all got a bit much alongside a full time job and a young family.

So this year, we are taking a different approach: 

  • Single batches. Our brewhouse produces about 200L every time we brew. Last year we often brewed twice on the same day to double our volume. We’re planning on stopping this and focusing on a single batch, once a month. 
  • Wet yeast. To date, all our beers have been made with dried yeast. It’s worked extremely well, but this year we want to experiment with lots of different types of yeast to see if it helps take things to the next level.
  • Fewer customers. We’ll be selling the bulk of our beers exclusively to three amazing pubs who have each been fantastic champions of ours: The Victoria Inn in Colchester, Stanford Arms in Lowestoft and Kings Head in Norwich. 

Our 2018 brew plan is 95% sorted. There’s a good mix of old favourites and some new brews, too. We’re also hoping to fit in a couple of extra brews with some special friends. 

I guess it’s pretty unusual for any brewer (or business) to say they’re reducing their output and their customers, but one of the luxuries a side project is being able to focus on fun, quality and experimentation first and making some money second. 

Thank you 

It’s such a massive joy when someone gives our beer a try and says they like it.

So a massive thank you to everyone who gave our beers a try over the last year. Here’s to a fantastic 2018. 

A list of beers that I enjoyed last year and some notes about why I liked them.

Sometimes I think the best beers are as much about what’s outside the glass as what’s in it. These beers were ones I really enjoyed sipping last year, along with a little story about why.

Herbalist - Adnams/Magic Rock

My favourite beer of last year. No exceptions. Such a glorious example of what can result from clever brewing mixed with a sense of fun.

I had the honour of trying this in the Adnams sample room just before it was released. A beer with an incredibly lingering flavour, I could still taste it in my nose for days afterwards.

It’s brewed with Lemon Verbana. Oddly it tastes exactly as it sounds: a zesty, tangy herb that could also double as the name for a second rate punk band. 

Hon. mention for Adnams brand new Ease Up Session IPA. A beauty of a thing. Drink it all evening and coat your tongue with maltose and linalool.

Cellarbration Ale - Norfolk Brewhouse

Had the chance to try this at the Maris Otter 50 festival in Sunny Norwich, organised by The Norfolk Brewhouse et. al.

It’s an Audit Ale, which I believe is an old style of beer that used to be brewed on Uni campuses. Presumably for the post graduate staff to sup

Never mind the style, it’s an ace brew. Mint + Cherries + Chewy penny sweets in a paper bag spread on a buttery rusky base.

Stormin’ Normin’ - Great Heck

This beer was my downfall at my local, The Vic.

Following an afternoon in the sun in the hometown of Suffolk’s best brewer I was in need of refreshment. “A quick pint in The Vic on my way home”, thought I.

Spying Great Heck’s distinctive pumpclips I cockily ordered a pint: “That one, please!”.

That one turned out to be a brute of a beer. It made every point of its 6.5% count.

Bitter - Stancill

The best bitter in the world. Went particularly well with The Duke of Pork’s amazing dogs in The Vic’s little garden for their annual beer fest.

Yes, The Vic again. Go there, you really should.

Bitter - Watts &co

It’s probably a mite arrogant to feature my own beer in this list, but I am rather proud of it.

Brewed for an appearance on the fine Beer O'Clock Show, and finished just before my own little brewery got its final registration sorted, this turned out just as I wanted it.

I love session bitters. They aren’t the sexiest beers alive but good ones have got it where it counts. This one turned out light, lifted by some heady hops with a little crunch of shortbread biscuit. Went down well as the staff beer at the local CAMRA fest too.

This Is My Beer For That (or home brewing a Pale Mild)

 

Say hello to my latest brew. This is my go at a Pale Mild.

“A pale mild? I thought mild was brown?” is what most people have said when I’ve told them about my latest brewing adventure.

Mild means lots of things, but it doesn’t mean beer that is brown. In my case, I’ve taken it to mean a mildly hopped beer, with some interesting flavours from the malts I’ve used.

Voile

I brew using a system called Brew-in-a-bag. It replaces the three or four vessels you usually need to brew with one — all thanks to a little voile bag. It works a charm for me. The basic process is as follows:

  1. Line a pot with a voile bag.
  2. Add water to the pot.
  3. Heat water to a specific temperature, then stir in crushed, malted barley.
  4. Leave to sit, so the heat of the water converts starches to sugar.
  5. Take the bag out.
  6. Boil the remaining liquid, adding hops.
  7. Cool, quickly.
  8. Filter into a fermenter.
  9. Add yeast.

As is often the way, anything that can be described as ‘basic’ is actually really complicated. It has taken me 7 attempts to get my process working properly. This brew is my latest.

This brew taught me

  1. I need to freshly crush my grain. I am getting a very poor efficiency for my brews - just around 50%. I think this is because I have to buy pre-crushed grain, and it isn’t crushed fine enough for the BIAB process.
  2. Sorta-Sparging really helps efficiency. I recirculated some of the wort through the grains in the bag at the end of the mash.
  3. Pumps and False bottoms rule. A tiny little 24v pump and a perforated stainless steel disc saved me about a hour from the brewday.

Simple Beer

I wanted this to be a simple beer that I could bottle for Christmas.

I didn’t want any LOLPUNKIPA hop madness. I wanted to see what a plain malt bill with a few additions could do. Its currently 10 days out from the brew day, and nicely into secondary fermentation.

Tasting beer as it ferments is very enlightening. Every evening I have a tiny taster of the beer, and every day its changed noticeably.

This is the part where the beer develops its character. The yeast has done the job of converting most of the sugar into alcohol, and now its working on other sugars and compounds in the beer, turning them into delicious beery flavour. (For a proper description of what 'turning them into beery flavour means, read this)

Amateur

Brewing is my latest obsession.

I’ve only been doing it 6 months and I am not an expert. I am fascinated by the science and process of what is going on. I wish I really understand how the yeast was behaving, about how different yeast strains produce all those different flavours, about how different temperatures in the mash really affect the conversion of starch to sugar. The real fun is learning just little bit, each time.

Some interesting links about mild beers

How Barack Obama got me interested in homebrewing

I like beer. Lovely, lovely, beer. I never knew you could make good beer at home. I mean, I knew that home-brew existed, but I always thought that was about musty malt extract and a bucket in the back of the airing cupboard. I didn’t realise you could brew beers at home that tasted like the ones you had in the pub.

Barry

This video below was what prompted me to think about actually trying it myself. That shot of the beer boiling on the stove, and the steeping of the grains made me think: maybe I can give this a try…http://youtu.be/dygQrX8FI3Q  

Yeast

I met Mike, Ed and Garry through Twitter. We’ve been friends for quite a few years. One of our shared loves is good beer - like lots of people. Last Christmas we spent a happy evening ploughing through a case of different BrewDog beers. It was a thinly veiled attempt to further our beery knowledge. The highlight were 4 beers that were part of a series called 'Unleash the Yeast’. All four were the same recipe, with the exception of the yeast. They tasted completely different. I had no idea that changing something that seemed as simple as yeast could produce something so different. If just changing one thing could produce such different results, what could I do starting completely from scratch?

Vinegar, Hops and Obsession

It is amazing how much you can learn so quickly. When I re-watched that video, I couldn’t stop critiquing their technique. My first attempts at home brew were abysmal. I’ve produced everything from exceptionally bitter vinegar to Essex’s biggest mould colony - and I’ve only been doing it 6 months. I am blessed plagued with an obsessive personality. When I’m interested in something I commit to it - I want to know everything I can, until I feel I’ve got it completely. Apparently I’ve always been like this. My first obsessions were Hot Air Balloons and Kingfishers. Homebrewing is the perfect obsession. It’s a little bit of science, a lot of asking questions and a lot of faffing about with plumbing and electrics. The end result: Beer. Lovely, lovely beer.