It’s been ages since I’ve written about homebrewing. To recap the journey I’ve been on: about this time last year, I made a Coopers Australian pale ale which I didn’t seal the bottles properly, so it ended up kind of flat, sour and crappy. I then made a dark ale, followed by a cerveza, both of which were a bit below passable, that oxidised and turned crappy. Next I started using the John Cook homebrewing book, boiled some grains and ended up with a series of super-crappy astringent beers and one surprisingly not-quite-as-terrible beer.
Since then, I decided that I was going to go back to basics in one sense but also push forward in another. I did a kit and kilo hefweizen with the intention of kegging it. I may not have done my research, so it was only when I got my kegging kit home that I found out I needed a fridge. The hef ending up getting bottled, which was OK for a couple of weeks and then the yeast re-activated, chewed through the residual sugar and now any bottle I open turns into a foaming mess. Last week, a rogue bottle confirmed my worst fears about homebrewing, exploding into shower of glass like a frag grenade.
Finally, I made the decision to use up the rest of my hops and whatever else was lying around for one last batch in 2013. I bought some ingredients online, including a liquid Belgian yeast, but my package sat for two weeks with the couriers (no one thought to tell me). I was always in a hurry so I did some stupid stuff. For example, I cleaned the bottles in tap water instead of the spring water because I couldn’t be assed going to the supermarket. If you’ve read anything I’ve written lately, you’ll see where the stressed out yeast throwing off extra phenols plus the residual chlorine in the bottles is going.
I used the end of year summer break to reflect, learn and revise my approach. I had some help. Not only did the Bacchus brew day teach me a lot but also The Westbender’s Tips for the first-time Homebrewer because, let’s face it with batch after failed batch, I had barely progressed past beginner level.
Based on The Westbender’s advice, I sought a chest freezer for Christmas and bought a thermostat online. I purchased a Thomas Coopers stout kit and a kilo of dried malt extract. I did the usual, threw in some Safale yeast and let it do its thing in a controlled environment for a few weeks. It took me three weeks before I really had the time to set up the kegerator (I needed to buy a power drill just for this one time use), so I turned down the freezer from 18C to 15C after about ten days.
By the time I was ready to transfer into the keg and carbonate, the gravity had dropped from 1050 to 1018, so batch 5OCN sits somewhere around 4.3%, a little lower than I would have liked. The transfer itself was relatively straightforward, connecting the fermenter tap to a length of hose and filling the keg with a bit of water in the bottom. I topped the keg up with carbon dioxide and let it sit for a couple of days in the freezer. I purged the excess carbon dioxide, set the dispensing pressure and took a sample.
And…the beer’s OK. I think I should’ve let it run at a higher temp for longer to get it down to 1010 or so. The forced carbonation makes the bubbles a bit too big. The kit base is flavour-shallow and it’s a bit too thin to be called a stout.
But with the carbon dioxide, there should be no more oxidation than was picked up during the transfer. Now that I understand how mashing is supposed to work, there’s no astringency. Without bottling, I don’t have to fuck around with that whole, painful packaging process. At least, it was easier until the carbon dioxide ran out and I had to get my bottle re-filled.
Basically, my homebrew doesn’t totally suck. So one small step in the right direction.
If you want to learn from my mistakes, here’s my beginner homebrewing tips:
- If you haven’t got half an hour more than you think you’ll need, you haven’t got enough time
- Sanitation is not that hard but bottling is a mind-numbingly painful process. Be careful that you maintain thorough hygiene practices through your bottle washing.
- Put a hard ceiling on the storage capacity of your homebrew. I settled on five cases before I threw it all out and now I just have a 19L keg. There’s no point in making so much that oxidation gets to it before you can drink it.
- In a pinch, putting your fermenter in a tub full of water will keep the temperature somewhat stable. However, it will also destroy your stick-on thermometer.
- Research before purchase.