Beauty amongst the mire

It’s been a very challenging and difficult time for the Green Man. Not only have their been heartless attacks in his homeland, but he also lost a dear colleague to cancer. I am only just recovering from these hammer blows, to be honest.

However, amongst the misery some relief has emerged and in keeping with the subject of this blog it is related to ale, and more specifically, the Green Man’s home crafted ale. If you have read previous blogs, you’ll know that just brewing beer has involved a long wait, a long trip and some serious persistence. I have brewed four ales and I am now drinking the third of these, an American Pale Ale (or so I had intended).

My first two brews were a very steep learning curve and though drinkable were tainted by the ‘homebrew twang’. This taste can best described as a yeasty, banana, fruity twang. Having drunk homebrew in my youth I know this taste well enough. For me, it is not satisfying to brew beers with this element. It is not the high quality beer that I am gunning for. If that is all I can do, I can save myself the effort and buy cheap beers from a shop without the hassle and disappointment.

Anyway, my third effort has required some investment to control temperatures. Due to a change in style it also used a different yeast and more hops. But, what a difference! I am now drinking something which I would be prepared to pay for in a pub, and if I did, would have no complaints about. I am not one to blow my own trumpet, but my word this is good. I am flabbergasted. I had heard that brewing high quality beer at home was possible, but was beginning to sense that there was an element of brinkmanship to it and that actually the message should really be ‘you can brew really good beer…for homebrew’. But no, I can vouch that it is actually true. You really can brew IPA (for this is the type of ale I have had success with) at home, as good as you can buy.

My first two brews I counted as minor successes, but this one I can genuinely be proud of. My only regret is that I only have nine bottles of it, such is my brew set-up. Next on the horizon is a Belgian-style blonde ale and then a stronger version of the same ale, with minor tweaks. This will be another interesting ‘learning journey’. Before that I will have another IPA (my fourth effort) to try. I can only hope that this brew is a new norm and not an exception.

Needless to say I am really enjoying the journey and it is providing very welcome relief and distraction from a lot of what is going on in the my wider world at the moment.

The Green Man as ever is reminded that he should remain focused on the mantra ‘Be open to the positive, never stop trying and you will be rewarded’. Well, something like that…

Hops!

This blog covers the other front in my headlong charge to make something from my new hobby (but, very old passion!). From the beginning, my vision for ‘Brewery-dom’ involves some vertical integration i.e from raw materials to pub. On my way I have fallen in and out of love with parts of this concept, but the one part I have not allowed to fall by the way-side is the growing and using of my own hops.

As you may know, I was very kindly given some hop rhizomes of three types: Chinook, Cascade and Centennial. They are all American hops and will impart the citrusy taste to more or lesser degrees. I have read somewhere that Chinook has a taste that has been described as ‘dank’. That doesn’t exactly sound inviting, but I’m sure it refers to some very potent flavour profile. We shall see…if I ever get any hop-cones from it…

I planted the rhizomes on land that has been lent to me by very kindly relatives. So already you can see that the ‘hop journey’ has been nurtured and made possible by the ‘kindness of others’. Quite simply, amazing! Hopefully, the wider family, including children, can get involved in the harvest and have a great weekend in August or September (typhoons pending). Us adults will also be able to enjoy the fruits of the labour in the form of some good brews. Presuming I have been successful in completely getting control of the fermentation temperatures with my new ‘Wine Cooler/Cellar’, which is due any moment.

Anyway, back to the hops. They have not exactly stormed out of the gates and only the Chinook rhizome and one Centennial have put in appearances. Annoyingly, there is an invading weed with some hop-like characteristics which I will have to watch. With the temperatures here starting to really climb, plants and seeds of all types are starting to grow all over the plot. I have been raking over the ground to unseat baby weeds and expose their roots. But, alas the life-force here is strong and I will have my work cut out just to keep on top of the plot throughout the summer.

Weeds are not my only challenge. Hops growing habit is something to behold. They climb and, to be honest, I think they are in competition with NASA. They make a bid for the stars! So, they will need some support on their skyward journey. This will be no mean feat. I have already designed the support trellis (more like a frame, really) and ordered the timber. The timber is now ready, needs paying for and collecting. Then I simply have to make my fairly large structure, which thankfully my kindly relatives are ok with.

Here is a sneak peek at the hop-patch. Not much to look at, I know, but you can see where the hop rhizomes are by the locations of the mounds of earth (or ‘hop-hills’ as they are called, apparently).

The hop plot

The benefits of gardening are great. I love being outside with the sound of life around me. I find the smell of soil and plants up-lifting. Though maintaining the plot adds to my already pretty long day, it is something that will energise me and keep me happy. It may well also be a source of frustration, but that is what this journey is all about, finding solutions to problems and not giving up.

Brew Day 3 this weekend with the new brew bucket (sorry Fermentation Vessel) and my singing and dancing Wine Cooler Cabinet! Will it be the end of the ‘Homebrew taste’? We shall have to see.

Brew 2 and anti-Banana taste measures!

Here is an update on the journey so far. I have finally brewed and now tasted my first brew. I have also got a second opinion on it, which was invaluable. Today, I bottled Brew2, which involved me sampling the flat beer (in order for me to bottle it, you understand).

First things first. Last weekend, I visited a friend’s bar and took a couple of bottles for us to sample (behind closed doors). His reaction was that this beer was quite raw. I’m not convinced he had ever tried homebrew before (otherwise he would have recognised the taste). However, this is actually a good thing, since I’m not aiming to make good homebrew, I’m aiming at making good beer in it’s own right. Anyway, the taste that I identified as ‘yeasty-homebrew’ taste he recognised as fruity (‘a bit like bananas’). This was very useful and I could look up that particular off-flavour. Turns out that my pitching the yeast at 24 degrees C and thinking ‘that’s all fine’ wasn’t. This flavour is a by-product of fermenting at too high a temperature. Lesson learned. Too late for Brew2 sadly, as I made the same mistake with it. I still think Brew1 is a pretty astounding homebrew, so Brew2 can’t be worse. That said, as I stated above ‘good homebrew’ is not my end-game. ‘Astounding beer in it’s own right’ is what I’m gunning for and from what I have read, I know that it is achievable.

Getting back to ‘Banana-taste’ issues though, I could recognise this taste when I had to create a syphon for bottling. I am generally hopeful that my addition of a proper level of sugar this time will kick start the second fermentation (aka ‘conditioning’) which may not have ever got going with Brew1. With a bit of luck, this will mop-up this off-flavour to some degree. We will have to see. My screw-up with Brew1 at the bottling stage was very sloppy addition of sugar to the bottles. This time it was much more measured and accurate…he says. So, along with the potential for mopping up the ‘banana-factor’ I should also get some fizz and, I daresay, some head. I didn’t realise it, but using medium crystal malt should help with the ‘head-factor’ too.

Research into the ‘perfect brew’ has led me to consider adding oats in my next brew. This should make it feel silkier to drink (a fuller ‘mouthfeel’). So this and the American-Ale yeast may well be my changes. I might add a little bit of Green Tea too, just to see what impact it has on flavour (if any).

However, how do I aim to ferment at the right temperature when the weather here is getting warmer all the time and will hit 29 degrees C tomorrow? If you have read any of my other blogs, you will know that the ‘Green Man’ is not one to shrink away from challenges. This is no different and, to be honest with you, I knew that this would be one of my larger headaches from the outset.

I thought about and considered all kinds of ways to deal with the temperature problem, but they all involve having water around the fermenter. This means the potential for mould and/or rot problems in our wooden house. However, it just so happens that on my visit to my mate’s bar, he showed me his ‘wine cellar’ (I think ‘Wine Cooler’ is a better description). It is a very inexpensive cabinet with fans (no nasty chemicals) and you can set temperatures up-to about 20 degrees C. It only keeps the cabinet about 15 degrees below the external temperature, but for my needs that is going to be fine. The order is in and I’m expecting it mid-week. I also ordered a second fermenter (10 litres) which will fit in this cabinet. With any luck, it will be ‘bye-bye Banana-taste!’ for Brew3.

Still, Banana-taste or no, I am eager to try Brew2. The suspense is killing me already.

By the way, apologies for the hopeless photo. Despite being out of focus, you can see that Brew2 is beautifully clear. Oh and I nearly forgot, Brew2 is a hefty 6%. I think this a result of using the medium crystal malt and mashing at 66 degrees.

Will the journey be walked alone?

As you may know I am on a journey towards founding a brewery. This is an all encompassing journey and entails a great many challenges on a wide number of fronts. I am starting by crafting my own brews 5 litres at a time at home, in what was our old pasta pot. So far I have brewed two ales and one mead. None of these is yet ready for consumption, though my first ale will be ready this Saturday. Watch this space.

However, being focused, persistent and enthusiastic has attracted others to the journey and I now find myself with a few potential travellers who are at least willing to wave me along on the road I am taking. At first, I thought “no one is going to be interested in this idea, it is simply too full of obstacles and is too ambitious”. However, as I have progressed along the road and stubbornly dug-up more information and added more aspects to this goal, others have been attracted to the vision. Of course, I am no closer to guaranteed brewery-dom than before, but I feel I am taking the necessary baby-steps toward it.

Last Saturday I had my second brew day (more details given below). This time I was not alone. One of my potential travellers wanted to see the process in action and also confessed to having an idea for a stall selling the brews at a local tourist hot-spot. He then went to research a potential location for a Brew-Pub (which I have since been advised as the way to go). It seems that my dream has inspired him and got his imagination going. Great news, I will need fellow visionaries to make a real go of this.

Another friend, who already owns a bar and loves ale himself is chomping at the bit to try my first attempt this weekend and has suggested that he too is interested in my adventure. I will be trying my first brew this Saturday night in his bar behind closed doors. Not selling my beers, of course. This really would be foolish. Not only is it of entirely unknown quality, but it is also illegal and may jeopardise the journey.

Then there is a relative who has owned and ran a successful bar and restaurant in his time who is also showing an interest, albeit a slightly more aloof and detached interest. He has already been the source of some great information of exactly the kind of volumes I can hope to shift together with some sage advice. The latter being that I should nurture my inner-turtle and rein back the hare until I’m sure my recipes are good and I can consistently make a decent pint.

The broader message of todays blog, for me at least, is that to inspire and motivate others, it seems that fancy speeches and big words are not necessary. Simply, being positive, genuine, enthusiastic and persistent may be enough. Perhaps it is a case where ‘actions’ really do speaker louder than ‘words’.