Brew 2, kind feedback and my first taste of a Lambic!

Well, Brew 2 is ready and has been consumed! Some friends of a friend have been very eager to try the products of my labour and it was not without great trepidation that I let them a have bottle of both Brew 1 and Brew 2. I couldn’t have been more surprised by the reception! They liked it! Before they put glass to mouth, I was full of apologies about the ‘fruity homebrew twang’, preparing them for what was to come. To my complete surprise they were really quite impressed. To be honest with you, I don’t think they have experienced Homebrew before so they lack the reference point of those who have, but still it was interesting to see how my beer held up ‘in it’s own right’, as it were.

Actually, in many ways they are probably bigger beer connoisseurs than me! Later that evening we tried a sour beer, a Lambic, no less, and a very good, aged Chimay too (more about those later). So they know a bit about beer. Don’t get me wrong though, I don’t think that my beer was received as a fantastic ale, but rather as ‘quite nice’. Where I recognised ‘fruity, homebrew twang’ they noted similarities to yeasty Belgian ales. Interesting, how our preconceptions drive our opinions. Of course, my second brew is nowhere near something I would be happy enough to sell to anyone else. Still, it is a marked improvement on Brew 1 in every respect and I’m happy with that. I was very flattered with the kind comments and their interest. They were genuinely shocked that I made it from grain, water and hops in a pasta pot!

Anyway, back to Brew 2. When you get used to ‘the twang’ you can taste the caramel notes from medium crystal malt and the cascade bitterness and citrus hops. The hops aren’t particularly powerful, but that is the English Pale Ale-style. If only it didn’t have ‘the twang’! Never mind, valuable lessons have been learned and applied to Brew 3, which is currently fermenting at a steady 18 degrees. The yeast was pitched at 20 degrees and so I’m hopeful for an absence of ‘the twang’. I have also decided to ‘Dry Hop’ this brew too. I’m going to use 5 grams of Nugget and 10 grams of cascade. This brew is going to be an American Pale Ale, so I’m not going completely overboard with the hops but it needs the ‘dry hop’ boost more though to be accurately described as American. The use of ‘Nugget’ should really give the hop element a kick, since it is pretty potent. I have also used American Ale yeast, which should deliver the dryness associated with the American style. I can’t wait, really can’t wait. Should be bottling it next weekend. So my Final Gravity reading (and my subsequent drinking of the sample) will tell me whether I have successfully finally seen off ‘the twang’.

In the meantime, I have ordered my ingredients for the next brew, an American IPA. I will be going overboard with the hops this time and am going to add some Munich Malt, alongside the medium crystal malt. This with the oats and a touch of honey and a secret ingredient should make the IPA something to behold (assuming I can eliminate ‘the twang’).

However, I need to divulge my experience with the Lambic! Wow! Talk about a completely new taste experience. Thanks to my new interest and reading, I know something about Lambics and how they are made. From what I can make out, as a home brewer you try your best to keep nasty yeast and bacteria from the environment entering your beer. Reserving the fermentation for your favoured yeast. With the Lambic, the fermenting vessels are left open to allow naturally occurring yeasts to enter the beer and ferment it. To most people it is ‘off’ and ‘gone’. With ale you would use the word ‘infected’. I’m not going to pretend that it is a session-able drink, it really isn’t. That doesn’t stop me from appreciating it though. It was mightily sour with a sharp edge, going beyond vinegar into a whole new world of flavour. I cannot describe it, words utterly fail me. It is definitely something to be experienced to be adequately appreciated.

The Chimay, pictured below was an amazing beer. But such was the nature of this that actually it felt more like a wine-ale hybrid. I suppose you could describe it as a dark, refined, porter-esque, barley wine. Of course it was a beer, but much stronger, deeper and more elegant. You can see the colour of the ale, very dark and very dry. Like the Lambic, this isn’t a beer for quaffing, it’s an experience. There may be a chance of me producing something like a Chimay, which is a Trappiste beer. We shall have to see.

Chimay Grande Reserve

During the evening with my beer buddies we discussed the Brew-Pub and brewery concept and I found out that there are ‘rocks on the road’ which I hadn’t been aware of. The journey is possibly more challenging than even I had considered. More of this later.

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.

The journey is filled with kindness

Every day seems to bring new information, insights and acts of kindness on this quest to turn a hobby into something more. As you will know, I am fervently researching the business of brewing beer in my adopted homeland, Japan.

I have been getting quotes for brewing equipment from a number of Chinese companies and they have all been very friendly and free with their advice and expertise. Of course, they know I am a potential customer, but I am only ‘potentially’ a customer and they know that. The chances of me buying equipment from them in the foreseeable future is low, yet they have been very generous with information. Their quotes are very reasonable too. The figures mentioned are still out of my reach at the moment and though it is hard to see at present how I will raise the funds, I am not about to throw in the towel.

However friendly the Chinese companies are they lack the detailed local knowledge of the Japanese market and regulations. Plus, they are located in another country, so shipping costs etc…must be factored in. What about Japanese companies? Surely they offer something similar, albeit more expensively, no doubt.

With this in mind I contacted the two companies that I could find that supply brewery equipment in Japan. One replied with a rough quote 10x that of the Chinese companies, which is pretty impressive when you think of it and some information about contacting someone who offers advice to people like me. While the quote might have been a bit ridiculous, the offer of information for advice was something that they didn’t have to do. I duly contacted the man and he called me back and discussed all the pitfalls and short comings of my initial plan. Amazing! This man has nothing to gain from me (as far as I know) and was giving me fantastic advice. I am now planning in a much more concrete way and it appears that a Brew-Pub, rather than just a Brewery, is the way to go. Yet more expense, great. Again, the towel is firmly in my grasp and I’m not about to throw it anywhere.

Despite my determination and spirit to succeed, even I have to admit that there is a chance that this project will never reach realisation. Of course, that is not my ‘modus operandi’ and I am still going to give this a mighty good go. However, the journey keeps confirming how generous people can be when you put yourself out there and strive for something.

On a slightly different note, I am going to have my second brew day tomorrow. I will tinker with the method and ingredients a little by using local spring water, a mix of malts, throwing in an ‘adjunct’ (mysterious local ingredient) and will ‘liquor back’ my wort to make 10 litres this time. As they say, ‘Time (and looming, nightmarishly hot weather) wait for no Green Man’.

In case you are interested, the picture today is of an old road near my work that was once used by Saigo Takamori (the man ‘The Last Samurai’ film was based on). Beautiful, but a bit slippery under-foot!

The Wobbles

For the last couple of days I’ve been blogging about my brew day and how happy I am that I have finally got to this stage. Up-to this point has not been all ‘happiness and light’, sadly.

There was a reason for my period away from this blog from November to late March and that was ‘the wobbles’. If you are not familiar with the term, ‘the wobbles’ are uncertainties and instabilities that trouble us, setting us off on strange inner journeys. It might be a British English term, I don’t know.

As you know my Mindful return to Japan last September was a painful one and though I still don’t think we had much of a choice it is still a decision that I mull over. That isn’t very Mindful, I know. However, just papering over cracks and denying it exists isn’t Mindful either. I recognise these feelings when they come up and try to be kind to myself, by recognising the difficulties of the situation I was in. Then I just tell myself to ‘let it go’. One of the biggest wobbles I had was in February. I had to go back to the UK to get my dog, a lovely, gentle and laid back Beagle. Very kind neighbours had taken him in and agreed to look after him while he stayed out 6 months of quarantine in the UK. This was yet another example of the ‘kindness of others’.

This move however raised all sorts of stuff to the surface. This was the final move of the chess set. I was not happy to do it. I felt torn and troubled. Japan is a fine country, with lot’s going for it. We have a house here and are financially sustainable. But, I have come to see that it’s not ‘fun’. And this is very apparent to me in the lives of our children. They aren’t unhappy, in fact they seem fine. My eldest son seems down about the move sometimes and that continues to trouble me. However, these episodes seem to decrease over time.

As time progressed, I gradually came to see our move back here as a mistake. I shared this with my wife, who was shocked and made it clear that there was no going back for her. I can’t blame her, I pushed for move to the UK and then the return. Who can possibly blame her for being angry and upset about that?

So, I had gone from being filled with positivity about the move back to Japan to be being filled with dread and pain. And, in addition, I was beginning to play out a variety scenarios in my head. None of them were appealing and most involved some kind of family break-up, which I desperately want to avoid.

Then the time came to get my dog and my wobbles reached a crescendo…and subsided. I have a new ‘motto’, which is ‘make it work’ and Mindfulness again will be instrumental in this and maintaining that outlook. I can re-assess a bit further down the line. No need for drastic, traumatic action just yet.

In addition, the whole ‘ale’ idea has taken on added meaning. It’s relevance and importance has been crystallised. It has greater import than simply making beer, it’s no less than a vision for the future. It encompasses a wider mission and purpose which may give me the opportunities to scale back my teaching and simply do something I love. Of course, this will not be easy and may not actually come to fruition, but there’s no harm in giving it a bloody good try. Especially, if that is not going to cost us in the short term.

And so I return to my position in September. The route has been arduous, but who said life was easy? In fact, Buddhism makes this a central tenet of it’s philosophy (i.e that life is suffering and NOT easy). It all makes me feel extra proud that I’m still on target. I’m sure I’ve not seen the last of ‘the wobbles’ and for sure life will throw some more curve balls our way. Though I (and probably many Psychotherapists) would probably argue now that it is I who will be throwing the curve balls my way. Life eh, you just couldn’t write it could you?

The kindness of others

As you will know, I moved back to Japan from my home, the UK last summer. It was a wrench and painful for all involved. I had no job and just an urge/ vague plan to overcome the odds to brew my own beer in my adopted homeland. Well, this was always going to be difficult. And this blog was away of cataloguing this adventure and the all the difficulties and challenges along the way.

I have had to be very patient indeed. We were in no position to invest any money and besides all the equipment I needed was in the UK still (I had bought it, but not yet used it, last summer). 6 months on, I now have the equipment and am ready to brew my first nano-batch (5 litres, I can’t even call it ‘micro’).

Part of my cunning plan has been not only to brew beer, but to grow the raw materials as well. That means barley and hops. Both are not supposed to grow well at my latitude, it is just too warm and too far south. However, a little research on the internet has revealed that hops, at least, grow fairly well as far south as Florida. I can’t do everything at once, so my plans for barley will have to wait.

Next challenge, getting the hop plants. If you’ve read earlier blogs you will know that brewing beer is not as fashionable, nor as commonplace here as it is in the west. You can’t easily buy the plants (or rhizomes, sections of root). Again a little research has revealed one supplier. A relief. However, a little more searching revealed a person who is going to give rhizomes away for nothing! Amazing! Who would of thought it! So, now I can get my grubby mitts on potentially six different types of hops! I

This in itself brings a new challenge, space. As it happens a relative is looking for someone to do something with a large garden in a town not far from where I work. I might even be able to develop this into something of a tourist attraction, if I plan well. The town is itself something of a touristy place and I know they are interested in something like that anyway.

So, thanks to the help of others and a little bit of tenacity from myself, I am in a position to start my fledgling brewery and the means to grow a variety of hops. Of course, I am nowhere near where I want to be with it, but, hey it’s not a bad start! I just need to maintain my course, direction and perhaps have a few more strokes of luck. The end result and viability of any of this is just a big unknown, but without effort I will never know.

Challenge Number 1 – employment

In one of my first blogs I mentioned the challenges I was facing and I think top of the list was employment. Let’s face it, it is a biggie. Without employment there is not a lot of anything. Before moving my wife had already secured employment,  so we can just about survive, for now. Not so for yours truly. I had a good lead and something half-sorted, but it was never concrete. Predictably, my half-sorted job fell through and this was always a very real possibility, so I was not taken aback or resentful. Being well and truly outside the traditional hiring period in Japan, however, it did leave us in a sticky position.

Having moved countries twice in the last twelve months we are financially in a bit of a ‘tight spot’, shall we say, with our coffers pretty much empty. So, with a family to care for a job is a priority. Of course, I have been on it since I got back and I have been amazed at the support and help of people. I was given a list of numbers of people who likely had work going by a kind friend. I called them all. Within hours I had two jobs (part-time) if I wanted them, the possibility of a full-time job and someone else who was forwarding my CV and asking questions to likely employers on my behalf. Incredible! Most of these people I had never met before.

Now almost a month after arriving I have a pretty ideal full-time job arranged and a few part-time/ casual jobs to do in the meantime. Things are rarely without their challenges and this is no exception. My full-time post is pretty ideal, it will give me time to devote to the fledgling brewery idea, decent enough salary, vacation time and even a car. However, it does not start until January…hence the need for part-time and casual work in the meantime. Again, I am playing the waiting game. But, that’s ok, we can wait and be patient.

Challenge 1, with the kind help of strangers, is almost there. When the income rolls in and we have some spare cash, I can think of growing hops and barley. Until then it’s all about the groundwork. Research, reading, sorting out land and finding out as much as I can about the process of turning a Nano-Brewery into a Micro-Brewery in my adopted home-land.

Know anything about it? Want to share your experiences? Want to just share a story about the kindness of strangers? Drop me a line or leave a comment.