Two years

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Not two years since the last blog post, although that’s not far off. I won’t apologise for that – there’s just not enough to say about making beer so you would need to keep a blog going with opinions and who can be bothered with opinions?

No, it’s two years since I packed in the day job to devote myself (part-time, very) to making beer. More specifically, it’s two years since I first set up my wee stall at Woodlea Stables on Saturday 1 July 2017, still hungover from my work leaving do on the Thursday and a wee night in the village on the Friday.

The first anniversary slipped by unnoticed but I thought this time I’d mark the occasion by giving a wee present to the folk who’ve made it possible – the people who’ve bought the beer. So, if you’re at Woodlea over the next few weeks* (from 29 June) and buying beer, please have a free* t-shirt.*

* Sizes available – small to fits me. While stocks last. Safety goggles may be required during use. Package sold by weight, not volume. Batteries not included. If ingested, do not induce vomiting. If symptoms persist, consult a chemist. For off-road use only. Not responsible for direct, indirect, incidental or consequential damages resulting from any defect, error or failure to perform. Do not bend, fold, mutilate, or spindle. Subject to change without notice. Keep away from open flames and avoid inhaling fumes. Do not remove this disclaimer under penalty of law. Warranty void if serviced by non-authorised personnel. Parental discretion advised, text may contain explicit materials some readers may find objectionable. Hand wash only, tumble dry on low heat.

Two years

The malt bag problem

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Malt bags, malt bags, what to do with the malt bags? It’s one of the problems of being small. Big breweries get their malt in truckloads, stored in hoppers, or at least get it in one tonne bags. Mine comes in 25kg bags. Each batch of beer empties at least one bag and if you brew a couple of times a week, every week of the year, that’s a lot of bags.

I’m not fanatically environmental but you have to think about what happens to stuff when you’re done with it. Apart from these bags, brewing is fairly benign. The spent grains are fed to the chickens or composted along with the used hops. The boxes for the beer are reused as often as possible and then recycled. The bottles are recycled.

But these bags. You can’t just throw them away. It’s not just that they’re plastic. They’re same sort of woven plastic used for IKEA blue bags so that’s a good, sturdy bag that could be used for something else rather than getting dumped in landfill.

And they have been used – for storing wood and kindling for the fire, filled full of rubbish, or you can grow potatoes in them – but mostly they have just been accumulating. Folded up and stored for some undiscovered purpose.

Over Christmas I worked out that if you take out the dusty plastic liner you get a clean bag and if you cut them in half you can recycle each bag into two bags that are the perfect size for a box of beer. So that’s what I’ve been doing.

The idea is that you buy a box of beer and carry it off in its own Brew Shed bag, which you should, of course, reuse, preferably by bringing it back to fill with another box. But other uses are acceptable.

And you can do the same thing with the paper bags that the Woodlea flour is delivered in. From a flour sack you get a sturdy (and very handsome) paper bag that can comfortably take 8 bottles of beer. Unlike the malt bag, now that I’ve replaced the malt bag handles with paper handles, when this one eventually breaks, it is completely recyclable.

 

The malt bag problem

Green hopped 1851

It’s that season where the weather is neither one thing nor the other. One minute it’s thin watery sunshine and then next it’s stinging cold rain. But I’m still hesitating about bringing out the heaters and wondering whether it’s time to start wrapping the fermenters in their winter jackets. I picked the hops back in September but it was a little cooler in the Shed so this took a little longer than I’d expected to stop fermenting and it also fermented a bit more than planned. A beer that has consistently been around its labelled 4.2% ABV has turned out to be 5.4%.

That’s not much of an issue – the new labels mean I can now print the ABV for each batch of each brew. The blank labels let me print anything on them. But it does muck up my plan for side-by-side comparison of the normal version and the green-hopped version a little. The additional alcoholic strength means it’s not really a like-for-like comparison. But I’ll still get a sense of whether, in flavour terms, it’s been worth the hours spent picking all those hops.

Unfortunately, the cooler weather means it’s also being a little slow to carbonate. It’s only lightly sparkling at the moment but the hops really shine, although it’s impossible to tell whether that’s because they were fresh hops. Maybe they were higher alpha than my usual East Kent Goldings. Maybe the estimate that you should use five times the weight of dried hops was a bit high.

Whatever, give it a couple of weeks and I’ll have it at Woodlea Stables. Unless I decide to keep it all for myself.

Green hopped 1851

Pressing on

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Jock at Woodlea told me he’d used his last bottle of last year’s cider. It opened with a gentle hiss and tasted great, which is a relief because there’s always a fear that the pasteurisation might not have completely killed all the yeast so there’s a bottle somewhere that’s been slowly fermenting away for a year, waiting to go off like a roadside bomb when it gets opened.

Up to now I’ve been using a little 25 litre brewing kettle that used to be my home brewing kit. With a pizza tray in the bottom – you know, the sort of thing with holes in the bottom to give you a crisp pizza crust – you can fit 14 bottles in it. Filled with water and attached to a temperature controller, you can heat the water to 70ºC and then hold it there for 15-20 minutes to kill off the yeast, giving you a fizzy, slightly sweetened cider. Nice.

This year I’ve upgraded to a much bigger but still improvised, pasteuriser. My hot liquor tun, with the false bottom from my mash tun supported on legs made from copper plumbing pipe. I haven’t tried it yet but I have high hopes of fitting 40 bottles at a time, which should make that little job a bit more efficient.

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You know that saying about making hay will the sun shines? How about making cider while the wind blows, pulping while there’s still apples to be pulped. Cider season is in full swing. Today saw the first 100 bottles filled and they’ll ferment for a week or so to get a little fizz and then they’ll need to be pasteurised.

There’s 400 litres in tanks in various stages of fermentation and more apples than you can shake a stick at waiting to be to be pulped and pressed. And there’s still apples coming in. Every day or so little carrier bags and boxes and the occasional wheelbarrow appear in the drive, full of apples. There’s messages on Facebook and an open invitation to plunder a little orchard and empty a few gardens. The only trouble is that there’s still beer to be made and bottled (and proper paying work to do).

On top of that, there’s apples being pressed at Woodlea on a Saturday in between selling beer. If you have apples, feel free to bring them along. Bring something to put the juice in and take it away. It’s all free. Of course, I won’t stand in your way if you want to buy beer. And there’s plenty of bread, fruit and veg and eggs buy (actually not plenty of eggs, they always sell out) and you can get yourself a coffee from Jason. But there’s no obligation. If you just want to get apples pressed, bring them along and I’ll press them for you.

Pressing on

Coming soon

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A couple of old favourites and a new beer.

Plum Porter

The plum tree in the garden gave up a healthy crop that was pulped and pasteurised before being added to the secondary of a batch of the Brucehaven mild porter. Once all the fruit sugars in the plum pulp have fermented away, the result is a 4.5% beer that is slightly tart. Last year, it split the room – some people like slightly sour beers, some don’t.

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Yes, the autumn winds and the neighbours have been kind and there’s now hundreds of litres of the Old Orchard bubbling away. And more apples coming in all the time. I’d guess that the first bottles will be carbonated and pasteurised by mid-October and then we’ll see how it tastes before I take it up to Woodlea.

Since there’s going to be more than last year, I’ll be trying some little experiments with dry hopping and adding some oak.

La Senne – Belgian IPA

I’m not sure that ‘Belgian IPA’ is a thing but what else would you call a strong very pale ale, spiced with coriander and bitter orange and hopped with Centennial, Columbus, Citra and Cascade, fermented with Belgian ale yeast and dry hopped with Nelson Sauvin? At 7.4%, it’s too strong for a saison. It’s been in the bottles for three weeks now but I’ll give it a wee while longer.

Coming soon

Fresh hops

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I’m going to skate over the fact that it’s been some time since I posted anything here. There’s nothing to say. It’s been busy.

You probably know that I sell most of my beer at the wee market at Woodlea Stables near Crossgates. It’s a marvellous place – relaxed, owned by people who are generous, sociable and love what they do. Staffed by a diverse mix of people from all over the world who are fun and, by and large, the customers are much the same. It’s a lovely place to spend the weekend and beer is sold along the way.

Anyway, a couple of weeks ago a customer, Peter, asked about brewing with fresh hops. He has vines. Goldings. Would I like the hops to brew with? Umm, yeah, of course.

Today I popped along to Kinghorn to pick the hops, between rain showers, and came away with 1.8kg of them. This roughly equal 360g of dried hops – enough for a 60 litre batch of 1851, which uses a large amount of East Kent Goldings after the boil so they will all be used as aroma hops. Should be ready early November. I’m thinking a pin for the Ship Inn and the rest in bottles for Woodlea.

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Fresh hops

Brewing the Leith Heavy

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It started with Ian Rankin posting on Twitter. A photo of an article in Scotland on Sunday, written by David Mclean of the Lost Edinburgh Facebook page and showing photos of the Oxford Bar from 1982. Quite why it’s posted by Lost Edinburgh is anyone’s guess – the Oxford isn’t lost. It hasn’t changed a bit except that the tall beer founts are away and, of course, the point of the article, Willie Ross is away. Also lost was the Leith Heavy.

Some mild searching went on but when Ron Pattinson didn’t know I figured the game was up.

The photos were posted again in April by Avalanche Records and retweeted by Mr Rankin. On that occasion, my query about who made the beer was retweeted and with his 110,000 followers, responses started coming back identifying the short-lived Leith Brewing Company and Ken, ChummeryKen, and, most importantly:

The most remarkable thing about this is that I’ve known Scobes since some time around 2010 when he was a stalwart of Blipfoto and I was a new member. Edinburgh truly is a village.

Anyway, having met up with Scott last evening, I’m sitting here with the original home brew-sized recipes for the Leith Heavy and the brewing logs for the full 10 barrel brews of the Leith Brewing Company. And much more memorabilia. And there’s more of it to come.

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But the beer. It is, as you might expect, a fairly traditional Scottish Heavy made with pale malt, a generous helping of crystal malt, flaked maize, which I’ve never used before, and sugar. It should come out around a very sessionable 3.8% ABV. But there are big differences between the Leith Heavy and what the BJCP style guidelines class as a Scottish Heavy. It is lighter than a standard Scottish Heavy and much hoppier. Where the BJCP puts a Scottish Heavy as between 10 and 20 IBU, the Leith Heavy is 40 IBU. To put that in some perspective, Punk IPA is 35 IBU. This is going to be quite a hoppy Scottish Heavy.

The only thing not specified is the yeast. There’s many mentions of “Yeast from L/Clark” soon abbreviated to “Yeast ex LC” which must refer to the Caledonian brewery (founded in 1869 as the Lorimer and Clark Caledonian Brewery). But this is going to have to be brewed with available yeast so the first batch will be split and three different yeasts used: Wyeast 1728 Scottish yeast, Mangrove Jack’s M15 (called Empire and their recommended yeast for Scottish heavy) and my old standby, Safale S04 because it will always be there.

And unless Scott knows someone who would know the taste of the Leith Heavy, there will just need to be extensive testing to decide which of the three is the better beer.

And there’s the story of Ken to tell. This guy was a character worth knowing.

Brewing the Leith Heavy