Pressing on


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.


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


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.


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


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.


Fresh hops


A visit to 6˚North in Edinburgh a few weeks ago turned up a beer I’ve been looking for since it was mentioned in a Facebook post last year: De Ranke XX Bitter. It was like finding the Holy Grail and there it was on tap along with two other De Ranke beers: Guldenberg and their Hop Harvest 2015.

All this reminded me of my attempt to emulate the De Ranke XX with only a couple of details to go on.

Finding it in the pub inspired me to make it again, having tasted the real thing. Here’s a post from then. The only difference looking at the website now, seems to be that De Ranke brew with Hallertauer Mittelfrüh rather than the Hersbrucker I used.

It’s bubbling away nicely in the shed, with heaters on and wrapped in insulation but here’s the story from when I first made it in September 2015.


It started with a post on Facebook by the magazine my brother Alan works for in Belgium, Belgian Beer and Food about De Ranke and their XX Bitter. In two sentences, the post said enough to make me think that that was a beer I would like to try.

De Ranke’s big hit with everyone is the XX Bitter, made with pilsner malt, Brewers Gold for bitterness and Hallertau for…

Posted by Belgian Beer and Food on Tuesday, 11 August 2015

It looked gorgeous.

I tried a few of the beer shops in the Edinburgh to track down a bottle to taste it but it wasn’t to be found so I decided I’d have to make my own. There was enough information there for the basic characteristics ABV and IBU and I decided that the high level of bitterness from the Brewer’s Gold would need lots of the fruity, floral characteristics of the Hallertau Hersbrucker for balance. So, I starting plugging numbers into Beer Alchemy, my favourite brewing software to work out how much malt and hops would be needed to make a 6.5% beer with the right level of bitterness.

Yeast was more difficult. You get no indication of the yeasts that brewers use. Often they use their own to get something unique so for me it was a case of looking at what was available online and picking something that I thought would be complementary. The only clue was that De Ranke’s aim was to create something along the lines of the big hoppy American IPAs but I decided against an IPA yeast and opted instead for a Belgian Ale Yeast by Mangrove Jack which offered “spicy, fruity and peppery notes”. Sounded promising – a bit of spice to go with the fruit and bitterness.

I have to say it’s turned out extremely well. Hersbrucker is the classic lager hop and there’s so much of it in this beer – 300g added to a 60 litre batch just as the heat is turned off – that it’s like lager with the flavour turned right up. I think the yeast contributes something of a wheat beer taste to it. It might be nothing like De Ranke’s XX and actually I hope it is nothing like it because that means I can claim it as my own. Inspired by a beer I’ve never tasted.

One to make again and I did, although it turned out a little stronger this time.