Special brew

A little over 3 years ago I started brewing again. It ended a 25 year break after I poisoned myself with a batch of cider which left me bedridden and wondering whether I would ever make good parent material!

Felix and I had been mulling over what we could do to grow more of a social life in Reading, and brewing seemed like a good option. We booked onto a “how to” workshop in Ireland run by Chris, one of Felix’s old road protest/environmentalist friends. Chris went on to study permaculture and his interest led onto brewing spectacular beers.

The workshop was relaxed, with plenty of time to chat away while we went step by step through the process of making beer from raw ingredients. We left merry and inspired and set about gathering the necessary kit to give it a go at home. The beer has been flowing steadily ever since!

I enjoy experimenting with the ingredients – there are so many different ingredients and varieties of beer to play with, and the quality of beer you can produce at home compares well with the beer you can buy in pubs. Even if you make a truly hideous batch, at around 40p/pint it isn’t going to break the bank (but it might break your heart to pour it away).

Today I am brewing a beer themed on the idea of toast and marmalade, surely one of the finest breakfast creations of all time.

Mash tun and kettle
Mash tun and kettle – no not the name of a fresh new hipster collective, this is my brewing kit

This brew uses just shy of 7kg of grain, which will hopefully deliver a strong beer around 6% ABV. I have a lovely book called Designing Great Beers (Daniels) which describes the different attributes of the different grains and hops available. From the book I learn that Vienna malt gives a rather orange colour, and Victory malt gives a toasty flavour. I’m also using Pale malt and a small amount of Pale rye.

To calculate the finished strength of the beer I use the recipe calculator on the Brewers Friend website. You could work it out by hand of course, but this is a time and error saver. WARNING: lots of beer recipes come from USA, and there is a significant difference between the number of litres in a US gallon and a UK gallon. I have screwed this up at least twice now (the beer is roughly 20% weaker than planned – still tasty though!), so that’s why I use the Brewers Friend recipe calculator rather than rely on someone else’s written recipe.

Chinook, Fuggles, Cascade hops in sacks
3 types of hops in this brew, but quite small quantities

Hops are used to flavour the beer at different stages of the brewing process. For this recipe I am using Chinook for bittering the beer – I’m not using much because I don’t want to overpower the orange flavour. I’m also using Fuggles for a bit of spice, and then Cascade for its citrus flavour and aroma.

Dried orange peel in a hop sack
A lot of dried orange peel

The unique ingredient for this beer is dried orange peel. I managed to source a kilo of dried orange peel for a tenner online, and most of it is going into the beer – I’m steeping it in the hot wort for about half an hour so it imparts its flavour into the brew. Research shows that you need to add about 10% of the total weight of the dry ingredients to get a good flavour, so around 700g should hopefully do the job.

To make the beer you put all the grain in the blue tub, and add water at a certain temperature to create a hot bath in which the grain stews for an hour or so, and all the sugars come out into the liquid, or wort as brewers like to call it. Getting the temperatures right is important otherwise you can get nasty flavours or less sugar than you want. For this batch I am doing 1hr at 66 deg C and 30 mins at 77 deg C.

Orange wort going into the kettle
Yes! It looks like a good marmalade colour

Once the time is up you drain the mash tun into the kettle, remembering to recycle the first few litres until it runs clear. Thankfully the colour looks pretty good and orangey to me! Then you turn the kettle on and wait for it to boil.

…and wait.

Good project managers (hello) learn to be prepared for when things go wrong. Today’s challenge is the kettle won’t boil. It keeps turning itself off around 80 degrees. So a swift decant into metal pans and a kitchen takeover ensues.

Boiling pans on the stove
Plan B – kitchen takeover. The floating brown thing is a sack of Chinook hops.

Disaster averted, and the boiling begins in earnest. First into the boil goes the bittering hops (Chinook), followed 40 mins later by the Fuggles, and another 10 mins later for the aroma hops – Cascade.

Close up of a single Cascade hop
This is a dried Cascade hop – lovely citrus aroma should be just right for marmalade

Then after an hour of boiling it is flame-out and in goes the orange peel to steep for half an hour.

Soaked peel swollen in sack
Thirsty orange peel soaked up loads of beer

Lesson of the day – dried orange peel is *really* thirsty. It has sucked up about 3 litres of my tasty beer, which means this batch is going to be smaller than I’d hoped. Grrr!

The next step is to cool the wort down quickly to fermenting temperature, about 20 deg C. To do this I use a coil of copper tubing which sits in the wort and has cold water running through it:

Wort cooling system
Cooling the wort – cold water runs through the copper coil, warm water empties into the mash tun for cleaning

Cooling the wort takes about 40 mins, and then I can add the yeast and pop the lid on. But first I want to measure the original gravity (OG) so I can work out how strong the beer could be. If the maths is right it should be a little over 1060:

Hydrometer in the wort
Measuring the OG to work out the potential strength of the beer

Perfecto! Now it’s just a matter of waiting a few days for the fermentation to complete, and then I can bottle it. Should be ready for Christmas.

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