01: Lager (k)

I’ve made some decisions about how I’m going to progress my brewing.

Firstly, I’m going to start making 3 US gallon batches instead of 5-6 US gallon batches when I’m experimenting, especially with IPAs. If I make something not great, I don’t want 5 gallons of it hanging around (like I have at the moment). I can always brew more later.

Secondly, I’m going to start partial mashing. With smaller 3 gallon batches, I’ll be able to partial mash with about 1kg (2.2lbs) of grain using this method (very similar to steeping, actually).

Thirdly, my next three beers will be another bitter (from tasting so far, All Goldings Bitter seems like my best so far), an IPA, and a porter. I’ve not decided the recipes for these three yet but for the bitter I may do an All Fuggles Bitter version of the All Goldings Bitter recipe – either a 5-6 US gallon extract or a 3 gallon partial mash.

Fourthly, I’ve worked out a way to brew through the summer! With the purchase of the kegerator, I was thinking of returning my fridge to the role it was built for – being a food fridge! – but yesterday I remembered that the temperature within the fridge was around 10 degrees when I first put the keg and CO2 tank in, before I turned up the cooling. 10 degrees is the perfect temperature for brewing pilsner! So even though I’m not a big lager fan, this summer I’m going to try brewing some.

Bucket status at the moment:
1. Brewferm Kriek – finished primary fermentation at 1.010 (as per kit specifications).
2. All Goldings Bitter – half way through fermentation at 1.012. It’s still fizzy to taste so fermentation is still going on – hopefully it will get down to 1.010 or 1.008.
3. Empty

Completed beer status:
1. Lager kit: Bacteria free but so bad I wont even drink it. Takes like Bass Pale Ale but worse.
2a. Whispering Wheat kit with wheat DME: I only bottled 10 of these. They taste kit like but they are drinkable.
2b. The above dry-hopped with orange peel, coriander, and nutmeg. This is my favourite of the beers I’ve made so far.
3. All Centennial IPA: This was a my first non-kit beer, but it turned out disappointing. The hop taste is too deep and intense with little aroma except sweetness. I think dry hopping would really liven it up but it’s in bottles. I may experiment with pouring some into a PET bottle and adding a little hop tea – see whether that rescues it.
4. Triple Cock(-up) IPA: Black Rock East India Pale Ale kit with DME. Since I added hop tea to the keg, this has actually become OK. It’s a bit light because of the kit origins, but its drinkable.

This weekend in-between rearranging my apartment to fit in the kegerator, I hope to bottle some of the Kriek and rack the rest onto cherries, and to fill the empty bucket with a new beer – most likely an IPA since until All Goldings Bitter has finished fermenting, I can’t really be sure whether the recipe worked.


Beer one (Black Rock Lager kit with 1kg sugar) will be “officially” finished tomorrow night, so I’m going to move some into the fridge and crack it open on Friday night. I say “officially” finished because it will be finished according to the kit instructions, though conventional wisdom says leaving it a few more weeks will improve the taste. So far – tasting in unfinished state – I’ve been relatively unimpressed, but I shouldn’t really have been drinking it, should I? ;) And compared to Beer two, which is turning into as saga, I’m going to be happy if Beer one is just drinkable!

Beer two (Black Rock Whispering Wheat kit with 1kg Muntons Wheat Spraymalt) was supposed to be the bees knees but at the moment is the bee gees knees. After restarting stuck fermentation three days ago with Amylase Enzyme, it has been slowly bubbling away. Last night I decided to see how far it has gone and found it hasn’t gone very far at all – about 0.002 points, to around 1.016-18. After posting a “How long does Amylase Enzyme take to kick fermentation to complete?” on various forums, replies have told me I’m in for a couple of weeks wait.

After doing the hydrometer reading, I took a sip of Beer two. It tastes like the beer has been mixed with baking soda – not good! But the beer is very cloudy and I think the Amylase Enzyme and yeast are currently in suspension actively working away, which is probably contributing to the taste. I left the sample out overnight and by this morning the top third had cleared, so I think (hope) the baking soda taste is temporary. It’s currently bubbling away slowly, about one bubble per 30-60 seconds. Maybe in the end this will turn into a star beer – I can only wait!

Beer three (All Centennial IPA extract beer) is the big hope for my first hassle free “gob smackingly good” beer! So far it’s been bubbling away nicely, today down to one bubble from the airlock every 8-10 seconds. I took a tiny sample yesterday. Seems to be some little bits of grain (or something) still floating around, but it is tasting good so far. Bitterness and caramel are a little bit weak and the aroma and centennial citrus taste are a little strong, but this is just after three days. It has another week or so before it is ready to go into bottles, and then another two weeks or so before it is drinkable, so lots of time for the flavours to settle down. Definitely the best tasting so far. Actually tastes like an IPA!

I can’t believe I’ve done all this work and I don’t yet have a beer that is drinkable!

Beer four? My hope was that Beer two would be finished this week and so I’d rack it (move it) to my third bucket with some orange peel and coriander then start Beer four in Beer two’s bucket. However it looks like Beer two will be fermenting away for a while so I think I’ll start Beer four in the spare third bucket. (You followed that OK, right? All these numbers is getting confusing!)

Current choices for Beer four are Brewferm Cherry Kriek kit or Black Rock East India IPA kit (I’ll be adding hops and grain to this). I want to do the Kriek but it takes so long to make (two weeks in the primary bucket plus 6-8 weeks in bottles) and I really need to have some “drinkable” beers made! So I think Beer four will be the IPA – which has the bonus that I’ll have two IPAs ready at about the same time. Will be good to compare the extract IPA with the kit IPA.

Beer one

Beer one

I had my first bottle tasting of Beer one (Black Rock lager with 1kg sugar) last night.

I have to remember that technically, according to kit instructions, the beer is not ready yet – it has been in the bottle carbonating for 5 days and now has another 7 days to condition. General advice is then to refrigerate it for 24-48 hours before drinking. So yesterday’s taste was skipping that 7 days and the 24-48 hours chilling – I quick chilled it in the freezer.

Carbonation was good – I’d been worried we’d put too little sugar in – but first impressions of taste were, well, rather underwhelming! There’s a taste as the beer hits the tongue, but then emptiness drinking the beer down, and an aftertaste of sweet and bitter at the finish.

Why so empty in the middle? And that sweetness in the aftertaste just doesn’t fit with the bitterness.

Is this just “Lager with sugar” kit taste? Or can I expect that this will improve to be yummy? Save for the carbonation, it tastes pretty similar to when I bottled it 5 days ago.

Perhaps one of the reasons for being underwhelmed is the strong beer smell. It’s not a bad smell – it’s just a really powerful beer smell – and it leads you to anticipate a strong flavour that isn’t there.

I hope that the next 7 days will improve the flavour of this beer a lot. But can it?

Still, I have to remember that 11 days ago this beer didn’t even exist, and after 5 days fermenting, it was on the 6th day that the flavour really changed, when it hit 1006. So maybe 7 more days will be enough?

Part of the reason for sampling last night – and at various stages before bottling – was to educate me, so that I can have a better understanding of how the taste changes. Let’s hope that in a week’s time I can look back and take the lesson that a week in the bottle makes a lot of difference!

At least I have one thing to congratulate myself on: I’ve made it this far and the beer didn’t get infected! Yeah!

Just when I thought Beer two was ready to bottle, I came back today and the top was bulging again. Hydrometer reads 1020 so it’s still quite far from the 1012. It’s just 5 days so I’m going to leave it for two more.

Beer one’s bottles are ready to be moved though! After 5 days they should be moved from their normal room temperature location to somewhere cooler for a week. Two have been moved immediately to the fridge – I don’t think they’ll last the night :) Well, I have to monitor how the beer is coming along, don’t I? For educational purposes.

I’m full of experimental idea for Beer two. I plan to bottle half and then experiment with the rest. Originally I thought of dry hopping with Cascade but after reading around I came up with the idea of using orange peel instead as a dry hop – as is used in my favourite Japanese beer:

Hitachino Nest – White Ale

A refreshing mildly hopped Belgian styled beer with a complex flavor of coriander, orange peel, nutmeg. White Ale has won gold medals at several beer conpetition in U.K. and U.S. This is definitely one of HITACHINO’s top-selling beers both in Japan and U.S.

Malts: Pilsner, Wheat
Hops: Perle, Strian Goldings
Adjuncts: Coriander, Orange peel, Nutmeg
Original Gravity: 1052
Alcohol Vol: 5.0%
IBU: 13
Color: Light Golden
Package Format:
Japan – 330ml & 720ml bottles, Various size of Kegs
U.S.A. – 11.2oz bottles & 30L Kegs

I missed adding orange and coriander at the beginning of Beer two but it can be added after fermentation is finished for a week to give a similar fruity flavour, I’ve read. On the way home I bought coriander seeds, nutmeg, and Japanese bitter oranges, but alas, I can’t do it tonight. Need to wait some more!

Just got back from the weekend away – no explosions from the beer or the bottles! Hurrah! I had a quick taste of Beer two just to check that there are no odd odours and see how it is progressing, and was astounded – it already tastes like wheat beer (but a bit young and sweet). Good stuff.

My bucket doesn’t have an airlock – air escapes through the sides of the lid – so as it’s fermenting away, the lid bulges up like a dome. When I remember, I push down on the lid and help some of the air escape. Usually within 10 minutes or so the lid is bulging again.

With Beer one, the lid stopped bulging on day 7. That, along with the taste, was an indication that the beer was done – and the hydrometer reading confirmed it.

Today is day 4 of Beer two and after pushing down on the lid, it’s no longer bulging again. The kit says 4-7 days and the taste is good, so it’s quite possible the beer is ready to bottle (after the near blowout on day 1, it seems that the early stages of fermentation were particularly active). On the other hand, the temp was right down at 18 degrees when I returned home which is bottom of the 18-28 degrees ideal range, so things could just be a bit slow.

I’m not going to do a hydrometer reading just yet (I don’t want to bottle tonight anyway, so there’s no point). I’ve moved the beer back into the living room where it’s warmer and I’ll see whether life returns tomorrow. I’m in no hurry to bottle this – I want this to be a fantastic beer.

30 hours after bottling Brew one and starting fermentation of Brew two, and 5-10 hours after having a near blowout of Brew two, I’ve had no choice but to leave the brews at home alone for 3 days.

My mind keeps drifting back, wondering whether it is all fermenting and conditioning away nicely, or whether the lid has shot off Brew two and hit the ceiling or the bottles of Brew one have exploded and redecorated the hall.

Last night I received the delivery from Sakeland which included the no-rinse sanitiser and the bottling attachment. Yeahh! All I needed now was the hydrometer to read 1006 and I was ready to bottle!

I was impressed by how quickly Sakeland got the kit to me. Less impressed by the kit itself though. The no-rinse sanitiser had no instructions on how much to use in a litre of water (I had to rely on Lost in Fermentation‘s instructions – look for the no-rinse sanitiser post) and bag weight was inconsistent (one bag weighed 180g), and the bottling attachment let beer drip through when “closed” rather than stop it completely. But hey, at least they were here and I could bottle – beer permitting!

Reading a Hydrometer

Reading a Hydrometer

Reading the hydrometer was rather confusing. Advice on the internet says you should read where the liquid intersects the hydrometer – in the diagram to the right that’s at 982. The instructions for my hydrometer say to read at the top of the liquid – 980, from the diagram right.

Using internet readings, I got 1007. Using my hydrometer’s instructions I got 1006. Not a big difference but I didn’t want to bottle too early and risk explosion.

In the end I decided to calibrate the reading by taking a known quantity – water. Plain water should read 1000. Using internet readings I got 1001. Using my hydrometer’s instructions I got 1000. That coupled with the fact that the lid had stopped expanding meant that I could be pretty sure the beer was at 1006 and ready.

Bottling itself was much more hassle than I expected. It didn’t help that being a virgin, I hadn’t arranged the space very well. At one end of my livingroom there was the beer bucket, a basin of sanitizing bottles, a basin of sanitized bottles, a bag of sugar, the drip tray under the tap, bottles with sugar waiting to be filled, bottles filled and waiting to be capped, bottles capped – all nestled into the space between the sofa, the coffee table, the tv cabinet, and the cabinet the bucket was on.

It also didn’t help that the bottle filler dripped! Two hours, several cramps in the leg, a minor incident which will teach me to cap bottles as soon as I fill them later, and two bottles chipped from capping, and we have 51 bottles of fresh homebrew. Beer one was born.

Beer one

Beer one

Wasting no time, I set upon starting the second fermentation. Beer two is Black Rock Whispering Wheat with 1kg of Munton’s Wheat Spraymalt. Compared to bottling, mixing the brew from these kits is a doddle – the only hiccup this time was that the spraymalt went lumpy when mixed with the Whispering Wheat syrup. I had followed the kit recipe by mixing the syrup and wheat with 2 litres of hot water – but it took 3 1/2 litres and a lot of stirring before I got all the lumps out.

Beer two is a progression from Beer one. Beer one one was an exact kit recipe – lager syrup and sugar. Beer two substitutes malt for the sugar – that combined with a better (I hope) strain of beer (wheat rather than lager) and I hope Beer two will be a big improvement on Beer one.

That’s not to say Beer one is bad. While bottling I left the sample I’d used for the hydrometer in a glass in the fridge. After the year settled to the bottom, it didn’t taste that bad. Flat, of course, and more ale like (bitter) than a lager, but hopefully after a week or so in the bottles the taste will improve.

I’m already planning Beer three. I want a continued progression. I have two more kits to use – one is Black Rock IPA, the other is Brewferm Kriek. I’ve heard that both of these need some flavour enhancing to really taste like an IPA or Cherry Kriek, so I plan to add something to the kits to add flavour. That is my subject of research over the next week.

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