…we’ve sold out of your beer. It’s going down very well. Would you be able to do us a repeat of the order?
Sweet, sweet music. And with stocks running a little low, it underlines the need to maximise the efficiency of the time spent in the Shed. It’s not just that it’s wee or that I don’t have much spare time for extra brewing sessions, it’s the straightforward sense of making the most of the time and kit that’s there rather than doing more or spending money on bigger vessels.
This week’s experiment was taken from James Morton’s book Brew where he discusses liquoring back. In essence, you make the wort stronger than you need it to be and then dilute it back to the desired gravity before fermenting. It does two things: it allows you to make sure you hit the target OG for the recipe every time and, more important, allows you to get more out of the kettle. So, this week, instead of making two of my usual 60 litre batches (and spending about 10 hours doing it), I made one 100 litre batch in half the time. The mash quantities and the hops in the boil were calculated for 100 litres but there was only the usual 70 litres went into the kettle. After the boil, there was 65 litres of very strong wort in the kettle, with a gravity of 1068. To bring that down to the target of 1047, 30 litres of boiled water was added from the hot liquor tun and run through the heat exchanger. Think of it as two boils – one of very strong wort and one of water – which make the target strength when the two are mixed.
So, I got almost the same volume of beer for half the time. Of course, you can do the same thing after fermentation. If you fermented the strong wort, you’d have a beer of about 7%, which could be diluted with water down to the target ABV. Discussed here.
The prospect of a complete tap takeover in The Ship means a little boost to production so that there’s three different casks ready to go in mid-January. I know, I think this every time I write something like this, if this were a proper brewery, the idea that having three casks ready on the same day would need any shift in production would be laughable. But it’s just a wee shed and it all needs to be fitted around the day job and home life.
Anyway, a double batch of 1851 on Friday and extra batch of Ramsay Lane and a Sandilands doubler this Friday will see me right. That gives them all at least two weeks fermenting, two weeks clearing and a week in the pub settling in their casks with the dry hops.
Other than that it’s just been the normal routine of cleaning stuff and moving beers around – some to casks for the pub, cleaning their tanks, and move another beer off the yeast into the clean tanks to clear. But in the moving around you get a wee sample of what’s coming up so I’m looking forward to the Belgian pale ale – Cairns – that got mentioned a couple of weeks ago. It’s finished fermenting at 6.9% so I need to decide whether to keep it at that or bring it down to something less potent 5.5% or 6%. It’s partly about the taste and partly economics. Strong beers cost more to produce and you pay more duty and this one costs about 50% more to make than my usual beers. Can I sell it for 50% more? If I can’t then I’m better off making session beers.
The single hop IPA made with Simcoe is also tasting nice although it really needs its dry hops added. That one’s a more sensible 5%.
Finally, the latest batch of the Pilsner got its first outing at the pre-Christmas get togethers of a friend. Tasty and nicely fizzy but the head is still fading away quite quickly.
It’s turning into a second job this little brewery, not that I’m complaining. It’s full of lovely feedback even when people are telling you they didn’t like a beer, although more commonly they’re telling you they do. This week I’ve bottled a little batch of the coffee smoked porter, which, last time, started off pretty unpalatably harsh and bitter, although after conditioning in the bottle for about 6 weeks, had settled into something very pleasant. Adds weight to the rule of thumb that a beer should condition for a week for each 1% of ABV. This batch, I’ve dialled back the amount of smokey Rauch malt since my local taster found it too smokey. Unbalanced. So, keep tweaking.
Friday’s brewing was a remake of the single hop Nelson Sauvin that I made back in July. This time, it was made with Simcoe and I dialled the ABV back from last time’s 6.5% to a more session-friendly 5%. But otherwise the same, especially toasting the flaked barley, which smelled fantastic when I took it out of the oven and was still smelling good when the spent grains were delivered to Woodlea Stables: some to feed the chickens and some to add texture and a nice malt flavour to bread.
Of course, there were chores. Brewing is mainly a sequence of small tasks – moving beer off the yeast from primary to secondary where it can sit clearing for a couple of weeks, cleaning tanks, surfaces, the kettle. Some major cleaning of the plate chiller, which I’ve let get gummed up with crap. I know what the problem is but not so much how to solve it. It’s little bits of hop and protein debris building up as boiling wort gets circulated through the chiller to first, sterilise it and then to bring the temperature down below 80C for the final hop addition. I can’t see a way to avoid this stuff getting sent through the chiller so, it’s been two days of soaking in various solutions of caustic soda and/or active oxygen, which has cleared out loads of the junk. Thankfully, it’s not caused any problems and I’ll just need to be more systematic about thoroughly cleaning it in future.
And finally, delivered stocks of bottles to The Corner Shop in Crossgates, the Dalgety Bay Sailing Club and The Ship Inn. Shifted nearly 500 bottles in the last two weeks so I’ll need to ramp up production again to rebuild the stock.