Drunken Speculation

The John Cook School of Homebrew

john cookLast time out, when I made my grandfather’s stout, I mentioned I’d been working from a book by a gentleman named John Cook. His book, Brew Your Own Beer: A Practical Guide to Homebrewing, gives a pretty basic overview of brewing.

There’s not a lot there that you wouldn’t pick up by osmosis if you’re the kind of person who trawls beer blogs – and clearly you are – but for some reason doesn’t homebrew. At the back of the book are some recipes with four “methods” of brewing: ales, lagers, stout and beers that require mashing. Despite the obvious differences between ale and lager and the similarities between ale and stout, the methods for these three are the same as my grandfather’s stout (MGS):

  1. Figure out how much beer you’re going to make
  2. Put a volume of water equivalent to 2/5 of that into a big pot
  3. Add grains, malt extract and dextrose
  4. [slow] Boil for half an hour
  5. Strain into a fermenter
  6. Fill up the fermenter with water
  7. Pitch the yeast

There’s a stack of recipes with no real guidance on what kind of beer you’ll be making, other than basics, like “pale ale”. God help you if you try to brew “Jolly Rodger Ale”, which my grandfather noted that he wouldn’t brew again after his attempt in ’78. Worse is that the beers need four weeks for secondary to take place.

So it was with a sense of trepidation that I made a few beers with this method while I waited for MGS to mature.

R5FSProject Quetzal, Mark II

  • Batch R5FS
  • Saflager S-23 Dry Lager
  • SG 1030 / FG 1006 / ABV 3.7%
  • Fermentation 28 days / Maturation 30 days

Project Quetzal, Mark II is an evolution on my Project Quetzal concept. I want to re-make Corona with a bit of hops and malt but without adding body or subtracting refreshment. It was based on the light lager recipe but with only five litres in the mini-fermenter, I used all over 25g of grain with another 700g in extract and dextrose. I threw in some Galaxy hops at the start and then half as much again with five minutes left on the boil.

I only wanted to have a crack at lager and regretted that decision because it took twenty-eight days to ferment. However, the net result is surprisingly close to where I wanted to head with PQ, which I was not expecting at all. A light, refreshing lager with a decent dose of hops, giving a reasonably balanced flavour profile. I’d probably double the amount of grain and review the hopping schedule but it was close.

Or it would if wasn’t a bit harsh and the hops didn’t come out smelling like “rainforest cat pee” and had added bitterness and fruity aromas instead.


  • Batch LU2Y
  • Safale S-04 Dry Ale
  • SG 1052 / FG 1010 / ABV 6.1%
  • Fermentation 7 days / Maturation 39 days

Lucy was a “mystery” beer. I was trying to get rid of some ingredients and get a clean slate with my next stage of brewing. The wort consisted of two malts (light and dark crystal), two extracts, three hops (Galaxy, Pride of Ringwood and Cluster) and a solid kilo of dextrose. I ended up diluting down the beer because the SG was too high. It was in the right range with twelve litres of mix. I still didn’t use up all my ingredients.

After a much more palatable week of fermentation, I bottled Lucy. A bit over a month later, I gave Lucy a go and decided that she was a total bitch that I hated. It was initially a very grainy beer and had evolved into something that’s almost caustic to drink. The relatively high ABV knocks you around a bit but mostly it’s just unpleasant to drink. Easier on the eyes but deceivingly so.

After consulting Homebrewing for Dummies (thank you ammo), it turns out that boiling your grain brings out bad flavours, resulting in “astringency” or harshness. I wish John Cook had mentioned that in his “methods” for brewing beer.

r5fs finished

Despite the mild astringency, Project Quetzal II is a close second to MGS in the favourite stakes. Meanwhile Lucy is challenging RPYG, my first batch, for the worst beer I’ve made.

I’ve come to realise that there’s two aspects to brewing: the actual process of brewing and the design of your beer. I feel that when people rail against macro lagers, they’re railing against the design of the beer – which tries to please everyone and in the end tates of nothing – and less against the skill of the brewer. I have neither of these skills downpat. MGS needs more work on the design to get the body, the ABV and complete flavour profile (it’s a small mystery as to how I avoided the same astringency problem). These beers probably need more work on the process.

%d bloggers like this: