At Easter, I visited my parents and mentioned that I was about to start homebrewing. It turns out that through much of the 80s – unbeknownst to me, as I was only born in ’87 – my grandfather brewed his own beer. Mum gave me some of his notes and a worn copy of John Cook’s Brew Your Own Beer: A Practical Guide to Home Brewing. My mother’s and grandfather’s favourite was the Dry Irish Stout recipe. In fact, they didn’t make much else.
Once I felt confident enough to move past the kit’n’kilo approach, I decided to give it a crack.
Where to start? John Cook outlines a simple methodology for making wort:
- Figure out how much beer you’re going to make
- Put a volume of water equivalent to 2/5 of that into a big pot
- Add grains, malt extract and dextrose
- Boil for half an hour
- Strain into a fermenter
- Fill up the fermenter with water
- Pitch the yeast
There was a mention of hops in there somewhere but the 1975 approach to hopping homebrew – there’s Ringwood Special and Pride of Ringwood and both are for bittering – is a little different to the modern craft beer connoisseur’s taste for alpha acids.
Being a bit wary of the ostensible simplicity, I decided to do a small batch. I have had a pair of 5L glass demijohns sitting around for years, so I bought a couple of airlocks, stick-on thermometers and rubber bungs and they became mini-fermenters.
I had to go down to Annerley Homebrew to pick up the ingredients. The bill ended up being equal parts black grain and crystal malt with two parts light malt extract, two parts dark malt extract and one part dextrose. That all got boiled together with about 10g of Pride of Ringwood hops in two litres of water.
A bit over a week later, batch 7ASG was apparently finished fermenting and had an FG of 1012, giving an ABV of only 3.4% after secondary fermentation. The next challenge was getting it out of the demijohn and into bottles. I did have a siphon and wasted a ton of pre-beer trying to get it to work. Given the siphon dumped my beer unceremoniously into the bottles from half height, oxidation will surely kill the beer over time.
The net result was 11.5 stubbies (about 3.8L), which were to be allowed to mature for two months.I followed the above recipe, made a mess in the kitchen and ended up with five litres of passable stout wort. I pitched the yeast (Safale S-04 Dry Ale) at 26-27ºC and let the yeast do it’s thing. The SG was a pitiful 1036, which makes me think that John Cook’s recipes will be only mid-strength.
Excitement got the better of me after one month. I left a half-full, fully-primed bottle in the kitchen in case it went grenado and gave it a crack, just to see how things were progressing. The beer was grainy, bitter and surprisingly chocolatey but it also was watery and lacked body. Lots of not ideal bubbles too. A full bottle, not aged in the sun, confirmed this.
A month later, not a lot had changed. The beer was still weak in body, way overcarbonated and had heaps of chocolate aroma – not unlike chicos. The individual grainy nature had morphed into a more well-rounded sweet maltiness but the flavour profile had a gaping hole in it. There was nothing in the finish. I probably should have added more hops to bring in some bitterness.
Overall, not a bad effort. It lies somewhere between VES0 and DR73 in terms of brew quality but the beer design
leaves a lot to be desired has a lot of potential. It could either go full Irish stout, for which the flavour is nearly there, or it could go chocolate porter, for which the aroma is definitely there.
I’ll just keep plugging away at it.