Monday, 27 June 2011

Sticky yeast

My yeast is stuck again. It's fermented about 3/4 of the sugars into alcohol and decided to stop. Most inconsiderate and inconvenient of the little fellas.

I've got a 'to do' list to fix it, many of these tricks will probably apply to the keen home brewer too.

1. Add oxygen (but I don't think it's that - added loads of oxygen after learning from last time)

2. Give it a good ol' rousing. The yeast I'm using forms a lovely yeasty-Carbon dioxidey-beery foam on the top but doesn't really swim around in the beer very well. Mixing it up (with a very sterile stick!!) gets some of the yeast back into the beer.

3. Give it a zinc hit. Zinc is vital for yeast growth and fermentation. Often if your beer is stuck at a higher gravity and won't budge, a little zincy hit will liven it up.

4. Re pitch it. This is a last resort (mainly because I've not got any more buckets of yeast lurking in the fridge) and it shouldn't really need it as we put loads of yeast into the beer which is more than enough for fermentation. Why add more than needed? Skimming over the subject...

I've roused it and added a zinc booster, all I can do now is wait.... I'll keep you posted.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

In tip-top condition

Before I start, here's a quicky for those who don't know what bottle conditioned beer is...
Basically its replicating the cask conditioning stage where a little bit of yeast is left in the beer to ferment a little more of the beer. It adds far more character and develops flavour, as well as makes the beer a bit more lively. This is called secondary fermentation and is what makes real ale, real. In a bottle, you encourage roughly the same process, although you often add a weenie bit of sugar as tasty food for the yeast. Normal bottled beer is filtered and so doesn't have any yeast which means this process doesn't happen. Often you can have both cask and bottled versions of the same beer and they taste totally different. Also, bottled beer is often brewed else where, a bit like baking a cake in a different kitchen. In theory they're the same beer but in practice they may be quite different.

We're going to bottle condition some of our beer for the Welbeck Farm Shop. Also, as of this weekend, we'll be having a cask of beer in the shop to sell fresh beer in 4-pint carry kegs (you should go and get some).

But I've never bottled beer before. I know the theory but am not really sure about the nitty-gritty business...

The question is, if I bottle condition a pale ale at 4.3% ABV, will it indeed be in tip-top condition?
Will it ever drop bright or will it be cloudy?

Apparently above 5% is a good guide to go by, because you need a higher alcohol content to make sure the yeast settles out at the bottom of the bottle to give you a clear beer.
I could do a lower ABV but very dark beer because you wouldn't be able to see if it wasn't crystal clear, but then that seems a bit like cheating.

Also, this priming business with the beers (which means adding a teeny tiny bit of sugar for the yeast to munch on). I'm a bit apprehensive about it because it's very easy to under prime which means you don't really get much conditioning, but equally you can over prime.

Last night I had a bottle conditioned beer which was really gorgeous. It was a bitter brewed with crystal malt, roasted barley, and black (or chocolate?) malt (so my excitable taste buds tell me). It was only 3.8% and quite pale. When I opened it it fizzed all over me and the kitchen for about a minute! I'm presuming this may be a case of over priming, and you could see it wasn't quite clear either, but I didn't really care because it was scrummy.

Running this brewery is a very very steep learning curve to say the least. All advice gratefully received.

Oh, and I'll find the name of that beer, but I have given the bottle to my avid home brewing friend already! Also whilst we're on bottle conditioned stuff, I tried the Marstons Very Special Old Pale a couple of weeks ago, which was rather good. It's available at Morrisons I think.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Getting into the swing of it

No not that kind of swing, although it does look quite fun.

The brewing side of things at Welbeck have finally started to go well and we should be distributing beer all over the place from next week. A good sign, considering it's a brewery. And on the plus side I'm going to be working some more normal hours, rather than spending every waking hour in the brewery - I am starting to get fed up of beer which, quite frankly, is unacceptable for a brewer.

The grand plan is to brew several different beers, aiming to develop a range of three core products - an easy drinking pale ale about 4.5 - 4.8%, a dark caramelly bitter somewhere between 3.6-4% and a really lovely rich-but-not-too-heavy mild/porter which will probably be about 5%. Thoughts please on ABV and style. We'll also brew one seasonal special a month.

We've brewed a second and much improved batch of the 'First brew' (4.3%) recipe, with a bit of experienced help on the hop addition from Iain, Kelham's head brewer. It was brewed on Friday and yesterday smelled incredible when I walked into the fermenting room to sample it. The addition which Iain suggested was a little Chinook at the end of the boil. It's got a really lemony grapefruity characteristic which has lifted the whole brew. I think I need to be less worried about over-hopping and just be brave with my hop additions! I seem to be much better at working out a good combination of malts for dark beers, but practise makes perfect and I just need a bit more experience.

It should be ready and racked into casks by Wednesday so I'll let you know what it tastes like.

The bitter is already in casks in the cold store, so I'll make some time to write some tasting notes for you to peruse and comment.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Oxygen is the key to life

This, is a fact.

Well, unless you're an anaerobic type of beasty in which case Oxygen is very much not your friend.

Yeast, is aerobic. The reaction which happens in brewing to get from natural barley sugars to alcohol is...

Sugar (from barley) + Oxygen + Yeasty beasties → Alcohol + Carbon dioxide (beery bubbles) + lots more Yeast

When we brewed the first two batches of Welbeck beer, there was a huge and very dense foam on the top after pumping the wort in to the fermenting vessel. I think this is mainly due to pumping lots of oxygen into the wort during the transfer, so for the third beer we pumped in far less oxygen. We aimed for about 15-20 minutes of oxygenation, because if there isn't any in it, we don't get any fermentation.

We brewed it Thursday
On Friday, no fermentation. But this is quite normal. It's called a 'lag' phase where the yeasty cells are getting used to it's new surroundings.
On Saturday I was expecting it to have gone bonkers. Alas, no fermentation. Eek! I went though all the possible causes of no fermentation, and decided that a lack of oxygen could be the only cause.

Sterilise a long ol' bit of air hose and pump oxygen into the beer for about half an hour. I stood up a ladder holding this daft bit of hose in the beer. It was a bit like blowing bubbles in your milk as a kid, I expected to hear my mother say 'don't do that!'. Oh then I realised, it was 8am on a Saturday morning and everyone else had better things to do!

Whoopee! Came in on Sunday, and after spending Saturday grumbling to my friend Ali about crappy beer and crappy yeast and crappy job, it was foaming all over the floor! I, am technical genius. I awarded myself bonus points for fixing the beer. I have yet to decide what bonus points earn me but, for now, I shall just say homemade Elderflower cordial with tonic. And gin. Lots of gin.

Enjoy the sunshine, and appreciate that pint.