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 1 is ready!

The moment I have been eagerly waiting for finally arrived last night. I could wait no longer and cracked open my first bottle of Brew 1. It made a reassuring hiss sound, letting me know that there was some carbonation/ secondary fermentation in the bottle (also known as conditioning).

I poured it out into the glass and it was soon apparent that the hiss was all the carbonation that I was going to get. It had no head to speak of, just a few bubbles. Well, worst things have happened to brews, I’m sure. My bottling process was a real mess with this brew and I have got my eyes on a better method for Brew 2. More on that later.

As for colour, it was much darker than I was expecting. I really thought Pale Malt would deliver a very pale drink, but as you can see that wasn’t the case. The ale wasn’t cloudy and was quite clear considering I hadn’t used ‘Irish Moss’ or finings to clear it. It had a lot of time though, 1 month in total. The yeast, Safale 04, also makes a good solid yeast sediment at the bottom of the glass.

How did it taste? A lot, lot better than the drinks I remember from my university days. There was a slight yeasty edge but overall, it tasted like a Pale Ale. There was a hoppy aroma and bitterness to it. It’s actually a little too bitter, still very drinkable though. This slight over-bitterness is due to me putting a third of my hops in way too early. This was thanks to my mis-reading of the recipe I was using. The longer hops are in the wort during the boil the more bitterness they deliver. So, my mis-reading of ’15 mins’ in the recipe as being from the start, as opposed to from the end was crucial. If I was making a IPA and adding loads more hops nearer the end of the boil I would have gotten away with it, but sadly I wasn’t. Despite this it is still very drinkable and I think I have drunken similar in pub gardens over the years. I have rectified my hop error with Brew 2 and am hoping for a much improved ale.

Anyway, I am much heartened by first ale. It really is pretty good considering I made it in an old (but spotless) pasta pot on my stove in the kitchen. I have higher hopes for my following brews though. I have my sights firmly fixed on quality brews that match professional breweries.

My attitude here reminds me of something I was told by an African lady once. She said this “If you aim high you can always come half-way up”. It was something like that, you get the rough idea anyway.

Suntory, Kirin, Sapporo and Asahi, I’m coming for you. “Be afraid, be very afraid”.

Brew Day 2!

Oh yes, we are brewing again. On Saturday I was joined by a potential fellow journeyman and I ran through the process with him which was much smoother than Brew Day 1.

I had hoped to brew 10 litres by doubling my malt and hops and liquoring back in the cooling stage. In the end I didn’t risk it and opted for the same method, but with the addition of medium crystal malt and a better job of ‘mashing in’ (steeping the grains, a bit like you would tea). This time I found I could hold the temperature at 66 degrees for the whole hour, which should give a much silkier and maltier taste than Brew 1.

I used the remaining half of the yeast (Safale-04, an English ale yeast) and again pitched at 24 degrees, which is officially too warm. Again time constraints dictated the pace. The temperature dropped to better levels fairly quickly last time and it didn’t seem to cause any problems. I will however, adjust my volumes next time, so that I can add more cool water to hit 18-22 degrees before I pitch the yeast for my next brew. This simply means that I’ll mash and boil with less water and make up the difference by adding chilled water at the cooling stage. All good in theory…

Next brew I will probably do exactly the same, but will use Safale-05. This yeast is used for American Ales and will give a drier ale and may accentuate the hops more. Who knows? By only changing the yeast, it will be very interesting to see the result (presuming I can keep all other variables the same…see below). I might also add a secret local adjunct (special ingredient) to add a unique taste element.

The weather is now perfect for brewing with temperatures hovering around those that are ideal for yeast and fermentation (16-22 degrees Celsius). By the time of my next brew I am likely to face my first climate-related challenge and will have to employ my grey matter to solve it. The temperatures are only going to get warmer now. But, this journey is all about challenges.

By the way, the picture is of my mini-cellar. It is located below the floorboards. It is the coolest place in the house, bar the fridge/freezer. I am running out of space though and may need to find another solution soon…

A garden full of meaning

As you may know, my project of starting a brewery also entails developing a garden where I can drink my experimental brews without being pestered by mosquitoes. However, todays post touches on this, but focuses on something that just struck me this evening. The garden is imbued with meaning! Sound strange? Read on.

As far as defeating mosquitoes are concerned, the garden is progressing nicely, but as I mentioned above a lot more is going on.

A couple of years ago my daughter started playing piano (stay with me) and one of the tunes that came up was ‘Lavenders Blue’. Though I am English, I had never heard the tune before, but immediately fell in love with it. Anyway, we were watching the recent real-life incarnation of ‘Cinderella’ on Friday night and this tune featured in the Ball scene. So, today I have been playing it on the fiddle and my daughter has been singing it non-stop. We have two Lavenders (ok, so they are French Lavenders) growing in the garden, part of the natural anti-flying menace barricade. But, it is so much more than just a plant. It is a tangible link to our family’s English heritage, a song and a shared musical experience. All in a plant!

The sweet peas growing in the background are from seeds I took from our garden last year when we lived in Tonbridge, UK. The parent plants were a fantastic feature of our small garden and provide memories of that significant and treasured experience. They will soon provide colour and important nitrogen for future plants next year. Again, far from just a plant!

potatoes.JPG

The potatoes I planted with my youngest son and daughter are now coming up and look very healthy. They too are not simply plants, they represent a whole experience for the children. Something small that you plant, see grow and eventually harvest and eat. It is the same plot that recently had some Japanese badger footprints (also the culprit of the mysterious case of ‘the disappearing cabbage leaves’, no doubt!). You can see peas in the background which like the sweet peas will be good for the soil and give the children a rich experience of eating produce direct from the garden.

The sunflowers I planted with my son are also just coming up and now need supports. I love sunflowers, not just for there bright, massive, gaudy flowers, but also because standing tall they also remind me of growing children. There are tiny Marigold seedlings in the foreground that I planted at the same time. As you can probably guess these are indeed part of the fortress experiment.

Chrysanthemums April.JPG

The Chrysanthemums have really gone crazy since I cut them back. They are also a part of the anti-mosquito curtain, which may yet prove as effective as the Maginot line, but they also are more. As it happens they are the national flower of the country we now call home and provides a great deal of colour when they get going, to boot.

Would any of this even occurred to me a few years ago? I can’t say. Is my ability to even think about a garden like this related to my adoption of Mindfulness and stepping back from pre-occupations and just letting life and consciousness flow, who knows?

Just a garden? Think again.

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!

Can my ale really be worse?

Today the Green Man is a little sleepy as he was woken in the early by his dog, who had alerted him to a Japanese ‘anaguma’ Badger rifling through his exposed bins. However, ‘Japanese Critters and Where to Find Them’ that is not the subject of todays blog.

The Green Man is still bristling with excitement at his discovery regarding the brew limits for ‘happoshu’ and he is busy doing a lot of research. Exciting days! As ever, the Green Man is determined to keep on track and do as much as he can to realise his goal. Oh dear, ‘Craft Breweries and How to Set Them Up’ is not the subject of todays blog either, not doing very well at getting on-topic today…

To the topic, at last. The other night I visited a friend’s bar and he had a few craft beers on tap. An IPA, which was very good and it’s related cousin, a Pale Ale. Where the IPA was everything you’d expect from an IPA, the Pale Ale was the opposite. Admittedly, my friend had over carbonated the keg, so it was too fizzy, but there was something amiss with the Pale Ale. I commented at the time that perhaps the brewer had forgotten to add the aroma/flavour hops, as the drink was bitter (so, bittering hops had done their job), but there was hardly any hint of anything else. The other thing I have realised is that there was also no real Malt flavour either. The result was just a fizzy, bitter, golden coloured alcoholic drink.

I’m really interested to see whether, despite my faux-pas on brew day, how my brew will stand-up next to this pretty poor offering from a small, but professional brewery. After all, my brew is also a Pale Ale. I did have lofty ambitions of Mashing it a higher temperature to make it a little Maltier, but that didn’t quite go as planned. In addition, one third of my flavour hops went in too early and so would have made my ale quite bitter, I imagine. However, I did then, inadvertently, do an Hop/Aroma-Steep. Who knows what the result will be?

There are only three more days to go to ‘racking/bottling day’ and I should be able to taste a little then. This taster will be from the Final Gravity reading tube. It won’t be the final product yet, but I should get an idea of the final flavour and whether it really is drinkable or simply plug-hole worthy.

My tasting experience on Saturday night though has left one impression with me. This is that my beer needs to be either ‘Hop Forward’ (more hops taste than malt taste) or ‘Malt Forward’ (more malty than hoppy). I think I will aim to get two regular beers going, an IPA and an ESB, hoppy and malty respectively. I can add a third or fourth seasonal tipple to this which I can experiment with and eventually rotate. Let the home brew experiments begin!

Luck of the Green?

Yesterday was a mixed day, a real up and downer. Some longing to be back in the UK and then some homebrew research on yeast which led me to a startling discovery.

Today the sun is shining and the cherry blossoms are still screaming “look at me will you!” in their very pink, not very under-stated way. The Japanese are supposed to like them for their beauty and the way they remind them of the fleeting nature of life. Here today, gone tomorrow. It’s a shame they don’t think the same about Cicadas. Very similar really when you think about it. A few days of decibel-breaking noise production, which completely defies their diminutive size, and then they are gone. This summer I shall be more contemplative when I hear them doing their ‘motorbike’ impressions.

Anyway, back to the point of today’s blog “The Luck of the Green”…Man. Yesterday, I was defiantly stating that the Green Man will not be defeated by mere legislation that states that breweries must produce a mere, trifling 60,000 litres of beer a year here in Japan. Well, with a bit more research it turns out their is indeed a way to overcome this rather irritating stipulation.

If you read a blog of mine last year, you will already know that Japan has a very curious loop-hole in it’s tax laws regarding beer. If a beer is low in Malt (or, so I thought) it is classified as ‘Happoshu‘ which is not subject to the same levels of tax. The big breweries therefore produce a drink, much like beer, but made using a kind of Malt liquer and then watered down and carbonated to be a lot like beer. Turns out that actually, as long as you put some ingredient in the beer which is not a typical ingredient of beer (i.e malt, hops, yeast and water) any beverage becomes ‘happoshu‘. “And, your point is?” I hear you say. Well, the happoshu breweries aren’t limited by the same nuisance limitations as pure beer breweries, and the necessary amount of beer production is only 10% of that demanded of standard breweries. Wow!6,000 litres annually. Now that really is much more manageable. And adding a special ingredient to beer (called ‘adjuncts’) is very much a part of brewing many types of beer and ale. No great shakes there.

My initial thoughts are to research costs and potential revenue first and then look into running a brewery part-time at first and then shift my work load over to it gradually. In short, I am a very excited, leaf-coloured homo-sapien.

Of course, there are still many obstacles in my way. I need to first hone my brewing skills and grow my own hops and malt (all part of the wider plan). Then, there is the not so small problem of finding buildings (and land), not to mention funding for the purchase and installation of equipment and the first batches of raw materials/ ingredients. There is also marketing and logistics to think of too. However, focus and persistence is needed in the here and now, which means bottling my first batch of beer and looking after my hop plants.

I’m backing on a “Slow and steady wins the race” approach. I will nurture my inner-Turtle and try not to get too carried away. However, my plans are looking more and more achievable as every day passes. A bit of tenacity, persistence and patience seems to be winning the day!

The Mysteries of Brewing

The Cherry Blossoms have just about reached their peak and we celebrated last night by having a barbeque. In Japanese the word is “hanami“. The English translation is the nice, punchy “Cherry Blossom viewing party”. Just proves that some words are better left untranslated, in my opinion. All the while my brew continues to fester….sorry…ferment, though the former description may still prove to be more accurate.

Since Brew Day, I have been looking in more detail into the potential effects of my errors on the day. I have also met two like-minded people who are very keen on setting up a Brew-Pub. It was great, but they were bringers of less than perfect tidings.

Well, it turns out that the errors on the day were this. 1) It looks very much like I probably pitched (threw in) double the amount of yeast that I should have…oops. This may produce some ‘off-flavours’ and make my ale a bit non-descript, as a lot of the sugars would have been turned to alcohol. Therefore it may also be a bit more potent than I thought. But, I am no expert, yet. So there is Mystery Numero Uno.

The next mystery, is a little more positive. It turns out that what I did by leaving the hop bags in after ‘flame-out’ (turning off of the heat) through the cooling phase was rather similar to something called an ‘aroma-steep’ or ‘hop-steep’. This is usually done to ramp up the hop flavour and aroma. So that may not turn out too badly…if the over-present yeast don’t drag all of that down to the bottom of the bucket with themselves as they ‘flocculate’. Love that word, by the way, kind of reminds me of erectile dysfunction…not that the Green Man has any ‘flocculation problems’ you understand. So getting back to my ale, Mystery Numero Dos is ‘will my ale be hopp-ier than I thought, or not?’

As for meeting a like-minded couple, it was a mixed blessing. Of course, it is always great to share information and experiences, but the information they shared with me was that the Japanese Brewing License is an absolute swine to get a hold of. Basically, it is set-up to stop competition with Japan’s massive established breweries. Not a massive surprise, to be honest. However, the Green Man will have to prove that he can produce and shift 60 Kilolitres of ale before he can get a license. To put that into perspective, that’s over 10,000 litres of beer a week! Bit of a jump from 5 litres every month, wouldn’t you say? There is no half-way house. Even worse when you consider that brewing a beer of over 1.5% alcohol at home is illegal! So, although the Beer industry is officially de-regulated, in fact, it is nothing of the sort.

However, The Green Man is not to perturbed by such trifling ‘challenges’. The existence of at least three small-guy breweries in my own Prefecture attests to the fact that it can be done. And the like-minded people I met are going for it anyway. It may take some imaginative problem solving, but I’m not giving up yet. He says, having not tasted even one brew of his own brews yet…

This weekend is bottling time. I will be back to give you the low down and taste notes from that. Until next time.

Anti-Mosquito Garden update

At last the Cherry Blossoms are out and they are providing lots of pale pink colour. Personally, I really like the contrasts they provide with the vibrant green of the new leaves of the Acers, seen above in the cover photo. Next year, I will hopefully be able to enjoy my own brews under the blossoms in the viewing parties that abound at this time of year. Today’s blog is about my throwing down of the gauntlet to the ‘Challenge of enjoying a brew outside unharassed by the airborne menace that is the mosquito’. However, that is where this blog’s link to ale ends.

Last night the Green Man was bitten by the first mosquito of the year! Hence, my return to this topic of ‘The Anti-Mosquito Garden’. Last year I blogged about the challenge of keeping these flying nuisances at bay by planting almost exclusively plants that mosquitoes are reported to dislike in my garden. As stated above, my long term aim is to enjoy my carefully and lovingly crafted ales outside without being eaten alive. Whether it will be a success or not, who can say, but the project is progressing. Today’s blog is to show where the Green Man is with this.

To re-cap, I planted several plants around the garden designed to ward off the tiny, buzzing menace. I planted Camomile under the wood decking with the idea that it being trodden on will release a fragrance that will be unpleasant to the target insect. I have planted mints in pots and also into a hemmed-in area of soil by the front door (I may live to regret putting a mint into soil, but we shall see…).

I also planted two rose-scented geraniums, of which one succumbed to a typhoon last September, RIP. There are also two French, feathery lavenders. One of these took a real bashing in the aforementioned typhoon, but has hung-on, tres bon! There is one Lemon Grass which was planted by the wood decking surrounded by a stone mulch. I have high hopes that this will thrive this year and be an attractive, as well as fragrant, feature.

I also planted five Chrysanthemums, which were a bit spindly last Autumn, but were cut back and are bushing out nicely. There is also a Thyme. I also planted Marigold seeds about 3 weeks ago which are just coming up now.

I would like to add Fever-few to this Anti-Mosquito Brigade and may have to replace my German Camomile with Roman at some point…

Anyway, the Green Man’s Anti-Mosquito Garden is maturing nicely. When the plants are even more established I will put ribbons attached to small stakes around these plants that will flap in the breeze, strike the foliage and release the frangrances / essential oils. The garden should then be something to behold (or, perhaps we will just ‘behold-ing’ our noses!).

I will blog again when the plants are more established and I have my ribbons in place. I can’t to see (and smell) the effects!

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.