I was nicely surprised at the Manchester Beer & Cider Festival when the team from Bolton CAMRA Beer Festival appeared from nowhere and presented me with our certificate from last year’s festival. Our American Brown Ale won a Bronze medal in the beer of the festival contest. Thanks!
Whilst brewing is a huge passion of mine, it does take up a lot of time and I tend to resent using the best part of a weekend day doing it – that’s why I spend a lot of effort trying to make my kit more time efficient, it’s also why I often get up at 6am on a Saturday morning to start brewing! Well now the summer is here (or is that was here?) I decided to make a stab at brewing in the evening. If I leave work on time I can generally be home for around 6pm – should be done by 11pm – no problem!
I filled the HLT in the morning before leaving for work and set my temp controller to 72.5°C and the timer for 5:30pm – I also dug a few other bits out of the shed – important stuff like the mash tun. I wanted to hit the ground running when I got home. Unfortunately when I did get home I realised 30 minutes wasn’t enough time for my HLT to get to temperature – I already knew that so don’t know why I hadn’t set it to come on earlier – this really annoyed me as this is one of the time saving features that should be straightforward. Live and learn!
I warmed the mash tun with a kettle of boiling water while waiting for the HLT to hit temp and eventually mashed in.
I was brewing my ABC brew – for those unaware, the ABC brew is a concept dreamt up by @pyotrsidwell and @hopsinjoor and you can read the full exciting story at http://unfocusedbrewing.wordpress.com/2014/03/03/easy-as-abc-same-but-different/ and http://hopsinjoor.blogspot.co.uk/2014/03/the-abc-brewing-challenge.html. In a nutshell I had to brew a 6.5% ABV beer at 65 IBUs using pale malt, up to two Cara type malts, any bittering hop I liked followed by Columbus, Simcoe, Experimental 366 and Cascade late hops IN THAT ORDER! Other than these rules I could do what I liked. As the resulting beers are being sampled at the June meeting of @mancshomebrew I was cutting it a bit fine to get the beer brewed, dry hopped, kegged, carbonated and bottled in time for the meeting. Don’t worry, it’ll be fine.
I’ve been taking quite an interest in water recently to the point where I’ve sent my water away for analysis. I’m lucky to have very soft water which allows me to add stuff to it rather than trying to take things away. As I would be throwing in a fair amount of hops I focused on getting a reasonably high amount of Sulphate whilst ensuring the Sulphate:Chloride ratio would balance the hoppiness and maltiness. Unfortunately I took my eye off the Residual Alkalinity value which ended up a bit high and therefore so did my mash pH – ended up at 5.66 which is a bit high for a pale hoppy beer – but it’s early days for water treatment so I’ll not worry too much.
The Grain Bill
I used 85% Maris Otter as the base malt and dug out my box of speciality malts to see what Cara magic could be added. The only suitable malts I had were Caravienne, Caramalt and Carapils. I wanted something pretty pale and thought the Caramalt would darken things a bit much, I also wanted the malt not to assert itself too much – I therefore chose 7.5% each of Caravienne and Carapils which I thought would add a nice backbone whilst still allowing the complex hops to shine through.
With such a restriction on which hops and which order, I thought I’d better take advantage of the “any bittering hop” so used a dash of Magnum. I then added Columbus at 9 mins, Simcoe at 6, Experimental 366 at 3 and Cascade at Flame Out (who said I have to add hops at 15/10/5!) I also banged in some Irish Moss for good measure.
The restriction on yeast was any clean American Pale Ale type yeast – I just pitched a sachet of Safale US-05 directly – most brewers will be familiar with this yeast – a pretty tolerant, clean and flocculent strain which should be perfect for this beer. I tucked up the FV into the fermenting fridge at 19°C and when I checked this morning the lid was concave which is my version of the airlock bubbling (I don’t use airlocks!)
The whole thing was very successful – I got the brew done, everything but the boiler washed and cleaned away and I was in bed before 11pm. If I did it again the only things I would probably do differently would be setting the timer on the HTL a bit earlier and possibly weighing the grains and water additions out either the night before or that morning so I could mash in immediately when I got home. Other than that, for the summer at least, this may be the way to go to keep those long sunny (yeah right) weekends free.
Okay, so the homebrews I’ve done to date have been good, but I’ve been getting increasingly frustrated with the size of my mash tun. When I first started brewing I had intended to buy/make a mash tun but I ended up using a coolbox we already had which claimed to hold 24 litres, but in reality only holds about 19. This has meant that trying to do a full 23 litre batch of anything over about 5.5% is a bit of a struggle, and beers like the 6.5% multi-award winning Elephant Hawk IPA have left me with a mash tun literally overflowing with liquor and grain.
So with my birthday approaching (not dropping hints or anything) I decided to buy a new tun. I toyed with the idea of building one from scratch using a plastic storage box and some insulation board, but I couldn’t find a box of the right size that I was truly happy with, so I did the obvious thing and bought a bigger coolbox! I went for the “Igloo Ice Cube 48 Quart Cool Box” which I picked up for £41 with free delivery which seemed okay for the size, and others have successfully used these as mash tuns. Here’s the coolbox:
First up I drilled a hole in the side to fit the tank connector for the ball valve – I buggered this up a bit as it could have been a bit lower but it should be fine – it’s still lower down than it was on the last one.
I then made a copper manifold to filter the grains – I used the same principal as last time using 15mm copper pipe with hacksaw slots about a third of the way through the pipe at 1cm intervals. It was a bit more elaborate than last time as I needed to leave a gap to avoid the incoming pipe to the valve. It looks quite good I think:
And here’s the finished article – I believe this is called art – it’s certainly craft 🙂
To celebrate my new found capacity I will be brewing a 12% Imperial Stout which I’m hoping to lay down for Christmas 2014. Cheers!
There comes a time in every craft beer connoisseur’s “career” when they will find themselves in need of what are known as “Train Beers”. As hobbies go, drinking great beers is something you can only do locally for so long, and in time you will find you are required to start travelling further afield in pursuit of beer. The types of places you will most likely be visiting are awesome craft beer pubs/bars, breweries and beer festivals. As drinking great beer is not compatible with the operation of fast moving motor vehicles, these visits will undoubtedly involve an element of rail travel. In much the same way that the city businessman will take out his laptop on the train to continue working in transit, the craft beer connoisseur can also be seen taking out a glass, bottle opener and assorted bottles to pursue his line of “work” whilst travelling.
In order to educate the uninitiated I have set out to answer all the questions that an unseasoned beer traveller might need to know.
Frequently Asked Questions
- Am I allowed to drink alcohol on a train? Drinking alcohol on trains in the UK is perfectly legal (and in my view, highly recommended) and many trains will actually sell forms of alcohol on board (although these may not be of interest to the craft beer connoisseur – see below). There may sometimes be restrictions to this general rule, i.e. when football thugs are likely to become unhinged – these restrictions will be clearly signed on relevant trains and stations
- Am I allowed to drink alcohol on the tube? TfL don’t allow alcohol on tube trains
- Am I allowed to drink alcohol on local tram services? Some local tram operators are a bunch of spoilsports, and due to this alcohol is not allowed on some local trams/light railway services – for instance Manchester Metrolink don’t like it. Check your local operators conditions of carriage for more advice.
- Can I get around these restrictions? As many craft beers are now available in 330ml cans they can easily be passed off as soft drinks to the uninitiated – for instance it is quite possible to openly quaff a can of Punk IPA or Modus Hoperandi and find that most uneducated imbibers of homogenised lager will assume that the lack of 440ml or 500ml can indicates a none alcoholic product
- Where can I buy Train Beers? For the most part train beers should be procured prior to boarding the train, as despite many trains selling beer it is often of dubious origin and may be undrinkable. There are exceptions to this, for instance @tobymckenzie of RedWillow has started selling “Tilting Ale” aboard certain Virgin trains (although beware as this may not be available as a complimentary drink in first class where you will have to make do with Old Speckled Hen from a can)
- Should I bring a glass? This is highly recommended as you are unlikely to find one on board, and being a craft beer connoisseur you are unlikely to be happy swigging from the bottle
- Should I bring my own bottle opener? Yes, this is not a standard inventory item on most trains so it is important to provide your own (presuming you are using bottles as your method of dispense). Ideally you should keep one on your key ring as getting out your Train Beers and then realising you’ve forgotten your bottle opener can be depressing, although this can lead to the fun game of trying to find something else to open the bottle with – last time I managed to use a pen
Thanks for reading and enjoy your Train Beers!