With the trip down to Melbourne and our endless excitement about GABS and Good Beer Week, the Trials & Tribeerlations column was put to one side for a while. This doesn’t mean I haven’t stopped brewing but I do need a few weeks to catch up.
To recap, my first batch of homebrew was the Coopers Australian Pale Ale kit with Brewn Enhancer 2. I bottled with 750mL PET bottles, which came with it’s own share of complications. I took samples after one week, two weeks, four weeks, six weeks and eight weeks of maturation. The bottles were poorly sealed, so the beer ended up kind of flat, and half of them showed signs of infection with an undesirable sourness. The eight weeks are long over, and here’s a chart of my enjoyment over time:
(Oh yeah, so I’ve started giving my batches four character alphanumeric codes to help tell them apart – the pale ale is batch RPYG)
Overall, not a promising – but hardly unexpected – start to my career as a brewer. The dip towards the end was caused by tasting my second batch, which put in perspective what I should have been producing.
The second batch – VES0 – started with the Coopers Dark Ale but instead of using the Coopers Brew Enhancer, I used a pre-mix adjunct created by the guys at Annerley Home Brew. Called “Old Blend”, it consisted of light malt, dark malt, dextrose and maltodextrin, although I’m not certain of the proportions.
As an aside, the guys at Annerley Home Brew are immensely helpful. They don’t have a website but if you need a homebrew shop on Brisbane’s southside, these are the guys to go to.
The initial mixing phase went relatively smoothly and was aided by not trying to put it together fifteen minutes before the start of the Australian Grand Prix as I did last time. That was short-sighted. I still couldn’t help but make a big mess the kitchen though.
Fermentation proceeded without too much hassle. Giving the dipping temperatures in Brisbane in late April, I found an old sleeping bag to wrap up the fermenter to keep the heat in. Worked a treat, with vigorous fermentation through the first few days and temperatures sitting around 21ºC for most of the week. The only hitch was that VES0 was due to finish while I was out of town. I didn’t know what damage could occur if the beer was left unguarded.
Turns out I was worried about nothing. The batch looked and smelled normal and I believe was in substantially better condition than the previous attempt (remember my line “It smelled a bit rank but I think that’s normal enough for proto-beer”? Idiocy).
Besides improvements in general putting-things-together techniques, I decided to go for glass over plastic bottles for this batch. The plastic bottles had caused no end of problems, not least of which is that if you have two beers, you’re drinking a litre and a half of liquid, usually before bed, and throwing away anything you don’t want because putting the cap back on, putting it in the fridge and finishing it tomorrow is not an option. Stubbies give you better control over your intake. It turns out, they’re a lot easier to seal as well. In fact, the only reason I waited a month to get this batch going was that I had to get 70 empty stubbies together. It didn’t take as long as you’d think.
I had a bit of help for the bottling phase, which made the chore much more pleasant and knocked a third of the time off, especially once I explained the functionality of the tap…which you would think would go without saying but whatever.
The bottles were primed with an appropriate amount of dextrose and from the full twenty-three litres, we managed to finish up with sixty-three stubbies of Coopers Dark Ale. I finally got to use my bottle capper in the correct way, using some attractive green crown caps I picked up online to help distinguish this batch.
I let the batch sit for two weeks. I wasn’t going to go in too early, like I did last time, but I wasn’t going to wait four or eight weeks for marginal gains either. I left them in plastic boxes, just in case a bottle felt like going grenado on me.
When the big day came, I can’t really express the reason for the nerves I felt when I first cracked this batch for tasting. I haven’t felt that nervous for anything – anything that seemed unlikely to directly threaten my safety anyway – in a long time.
Nonetheless, the result was a tasty, malty yet bitter concoction. The dark ale shows no signs of sourness or headache-inducing volatiles. It has a solid body, incredible head retention and lacing on the glass. Carbonation in the glass bottles came through a treat with none of the flatness experienced previously. All-in-all, a big step up in quality over the previous batch.
The only problem is that I had sixty-three bottles to drink of the stuff. After a while, the flavours don’t have the same impact and you only taste generic beery bitterness. Oh well, it’s still cheaper and better than XXXX.