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Brew #23 : a brewing year

Brew #23 is another batch of what’s now called Mynwent Mild [1]Mynwent is Welsh for graveyard, which is Kierkegaard in Danish and after a year of brewing has become one of the core beers that have solid recipes and can be reproduced. The brew day has settled into a routine, outlined below, with comments on changes and improvements to the process since I started.

The brewery; it’s taken a bit of a hit during the year due to the amount of boiling of sticky wort that takes place. Brewing with the doors and windows open really helps.

Light the burner for Hot Liquor Tank (HLT) (08h30) I started out with Powell Brewing 50 litre kit but subsequently found a set of 100 litre vessels on eBay locally. Batch sizes have therefore gone from 25-30l, up to 60-70l on average. Going bigger comes with challenges and you can’t move 70l of liquid or mash around easily and you need to pump it. I’ll heat around 90l of water initially though I’ll need to add another 10-15l in order to have enough for both mash and sparge.

Prepare the ingredients for the mash (09h00); After trying a few suppliers, I’m now buying most of my ingredients from The Malt Miller in Swindon, with a good reliable product and delivery service. COVID-19 has seen a significant increase in demand from home brewers, who are … at home more and Malt Miller has had working restrictions. I managed to order some ingredients for the next brew the previous day at 3pm.

The main ingredients for around 60l on Mynwent Mild are:

  • 12kg of mild ale malt
  • 0.9kg of crystal malt
  • 0.3kg of chocolate malt
  • 150g of Fuggles Hops (4.3% AAU)
  • Safale US-05 yeast (2 packs)

As the target ABV for Mynwent Mild is around 3.4%, the grain bill isn’t too high; for a bitter or lager in the same volumes you’d need around 15kg of base malt for similar volumes. You need also to take into account brewhouse efficiency, ie how much of the wort you are going to lose in the process. Again something I’ve picked up during the year and more on this in the article.

Mash temperature 68 C for a mild, higher than for a bitter or lager

Mash (09h45) : For bitters, mild and ales, it’s a single step infusion mash, so getting the right strike water temperature for the volume of grain and the target mash temperature is key. Single step mashes fine for most two-row well-modified barley you can now get from suppliers and the previous year has shown that 68 C for the mild seems to be good. Strike water temperature was 82 C, quite high but I’ve found the online calculators seem to be on the low side and it’s easier to be high (and stir out the heat) than be on the low side (and need too much water in the mash). The process needed for lagers is more complex, though speaking with a few craft brewers during the year (as Bluestone and Caffle for example) the product quality does mean you can get away with single-step mashes for lager malts; will be trying it soon.

Recycling the mash, gets the grain bed to set well and is the main factor in getting a clear beer

Mashout (10h45) : I’ve heater the water up to around 85 C whilst the mash has continued and then added more water with the aim of getting the mash to near as possible 76 C for the ‘mash out’. I’ve not always done it on brews and haven’t noticed much difference when I do or don’t include it in the process.

Recycling (10h50) : Spent some time looking at this during the year and the art of vorlaufing is much discussed by all grain homebrewers it seems. It’s purpose is to set the grain bed in the mash tun and to ensure the wort that is there is clear and has as many particles as possible removed from it. I’ve used a two litre jug for this, carefully pouring it back on to the top of the grains (the mash paddle to spread it across the top, to avoid disturbing the grains). Doing this for 30 minutes is a little tedious, but well worth it in terms of results. I’ve looked a using the pump to recirculate this also but this hasn’t seen to get the wort to go clear. My thinking is there is that the suction from the pump is forcing particles through the grain bed and keeping them in circulation. I’ve a plan for the next brew of dropping the wort into a container and then pumping it from there. Going for a RIMS or HERMS system is an option, but the manual method seems to working okay for the volumes I’m currently producing.

Sparging (11h30) : My initial approach on the early brews was to manually sparge by using the same approach as for recycling and pour 76 C sparge water onto the top of the grain bed, allowing for the wort to trickle into a container below. However, I’ve now used a sparge arm and gravity feeding this from the HLT; the arm is relatively small as bought for the 50 l kit, but does the job well and it’s a less manual process. This is important as it’s easier then to regulate the time taken, which was around 30 minutes and now is more like an hour. I’m running the wort into a container, which then I add to the kettle 10l at a time, so I can start the heating the wort ready for the boil as I’m sparging; this saves some time too.

Managed to get 70 lites into the kettle with an original gravity of 1.036, which with a good fermentation (and a final gravity of 1.010) should come out at 3.4% ABV. It pays to have more sparge water than you think you need as you want to avoid running the grain bed dry as they’ll more particles and stuff in the wort (which you won’t get rid of later in the process). I did tip the mash tun to get more wort out once early on; won’t be doing that again as you’ll have a beer that never clears further than what you’d expect from canal water !.

Boil (12h30) : A recent innovation is to start the heating the wort during the sparge and this doesn’t seem to have an adverse effect on the end result. I usually note the elapsed times for key activities during the boil and then add in actual time once the boil has started. For the Mild, the hops are added with 75 minutes to go of a 90 minute boil (ie for bittering, rather than flavouring) and as it’s a Mild, there’s not too much of a hop load (only 150g). Getting a good rolling boil seems to be good, more vigorous than not and you can see the crap coming out in the boil, with the hot break.

Bitter Hops (12h45) : I’ve tended to use whole hops, rather than pellets during the last year and surprise, surprise it’s another area of contention in home brewing. For me, they work well and the couple of times I’ve used pellets the beer hasn’t cleared as well.

Fuggles hops (150g) going into the kettle at 75 minutes (to go)

Irish Moss or Protoflac (13h45) : I’m now using Protoflac tables with 15 minutes left of boil as the kettle finings rather than Irish Moss; seems to work okay for me.

Flame Out (14h00) : I don’t whirlpool the kettle as I’ve not the kit to do it, but I do give it a stir with a mash paddle and leave it for 5 minutes or so before chilling the wort ready for the fermentor.

Yeast (14h00) : As mentioned above, whilst I started out using liquid yeasts and did the prep (with the stir plate, starters etc), I’ve subsequently reverted to dried yeasts and in particular to the Fermentis brand and have had good results with the ale, kolsch and lager varieties.

Fermentis brand yeast is a little confusing in the naming, but results are good. Check the amount of wort that a packet of yeast is suitable for, as they vary from 10 to 30 litres for each 11g. .

Whilst the packet recommendation is to just apply the yeast directly to the wort in the fermentor, I’m now hydrating it for 30 minutes before pitching, after seeing it recommended in John Palmer’s How To Brew (which although detailed in places is about the best book for the newer home brewer).

Yeast hydration prior to pitching

I started out with liquid years (Wyeast) and though there were a couple of misses, it worked out okay. However I did some brews with a couple of different dried yeast options and have settled on the Fermentis range of yeasts for now. Now, you don’t get the wide selection that you do with with liquid yeasts so the flavours from the product won’t be quite as varied either. Chatting with a couple of Pembrokeshire brewers, they are also using dried yeasts, partly because of costs but also because they don’t have facilities of managing yeast (ie a lab and reusing it). This is something that I might look at again, as it would be another aspect of brewing to understand. Yeast is complex and pretty interesting, so plenty of reading needed.

Chilling (14h05) : One of the big challenges is getting boiling wort (about 60 litres of it) down to fermentation temperature (about 18 C for ale) as quickly as possible, ideally in under 30 minutes. The original Powell kit came with a suitably sized plate heat exchanger. It’s a good bit of kit and with the right cold tap flow, it can easily do the job. For lager wort, you need to get the temperature lower and this is possible with more water flow and a bucket of ice, with my best result getting down to 15 C.

Chilling the wort, with the pump getting the beer into the fridge mounted fermentor.

I use gravity and the tap to control the cold water flow and all the hot water coming out after exchange is used to fill the HLT and other vessels for cleaning up afterwards, which cuts down on the energy consumption considerably. The chilled wort goes into a 25 l bucket and then I use the pump again to get this into the fermentor.

Fermentation : I started brewing with buckets for fermentors but quickly went and bought a conical fermenator, the FastFerment. It gave good results and wasn’t cheap but the valve wasn’t great and I got sent a replacement after the original one broke. I then acquired a stainless 30l Brewtech one, before going back to PTFE and an 80 litre one from Poland, which is great quality. The resale on the smaller fermentors was good, so didn’t lose too much money on the change and as with anything good quality kit will retain its value. The 80 litre size means you lose more of the wort at the bottom of the vessel but you don’t want it anyway, as there’s more trub given the volume.

80 litre fermentor fits nicely into the fridge

I’ve housed all the fermentors in a fridge for temperature control and used an STC 1000 for this; they are cheap and it’s relatively easy to set up a brew fridge. There is a more sophisticated BrewPi system and I’ve the components to make one somewhere, but the STC 1000 approach has worked really well and there lots of guides on how to do it out there. My fridge cost £20 and you don’t really want a freezer.

STC 1000 temperature controller; easy to use and set up. It provides power to the fridge when cooling and heat to a small greenhouse heater to warm it up.

Keeping the fermentation constant and predictable seems to have a big impact in quality and flavour for the beer and the beer fridge really makes this easy. For complex beer processes, such as lagers, the controller makes stages like the diacetyl rest important.

Aerating the Chilled Wort : One of the initial problems I had was with a couple of failed fermentations which could have been a lack of oxygen in the wort, a common issue with boiled liquids. I had a spare bottle of O2 (from the oxypropane kit in the garage) so along with an aquarium aeration stone, I’m adding a small amount (30 seconds or so) prior to pitching the hydrated yeast. Touch wood, not had a failed fermentation for quite a while.

Storage and Delivery : From home brewing years ago, I remembered one of the main challenges (and tiresome parts) was bottling, both cleaning and getting beer into the bottles. Initially I decided to use gas for storage in Cornelius (corny) kegs, 19 litre vessels used for coke and soft drinks in pubs. These have been great and with gas and a suitable pump for delivery, the beer will be drinkable for quite a while (3 months plus if it lasts that long). I’ve also invested in a beer engine and a couple of pins (4.5 gallon casks) which are good for parties and larger gatherings (not that this is happening for a while). Refurbished corny kegs can be found for £50-65 and the taps, lines and other dispensing items are all available. Getting non-rental CO2 is possible via Adams Gas and the main distributor for South Wales just happens to be just outside Fishguard, so relatively handy for me (when travelling).

Corny kegs in the fridge. Good for storing lager as cool as possible, for 2-3 months minimum.

I also took the plunge and bought a Cannular canning machine, which though not cheap is 50% of some of the other devices aimed at home brewers. Once set up (which takes some tuning with the different chucks) it works well and is a great way of distributing beer to friends and family[2]Especially during the Covid19 lockdown, as you send cans relatively cheaply using Hermes, will let you know if they make it. Whilst doing the mild brew, managed to find time to can some of the previous Bertand’s Bitter brew. With the labels, it works out at about 18p a can, so whilst not cheap it makes the product portable; requires less cleaning and no worries in getting the bottles back.

Ready for canning; beer is already under gas from he keg, so makes filling relatively easy

Cleaning : You’ll read in all the books that cleaning is essential and you find if you don’t clean vessels, the brewing area and all around thoroughly you’ll end up with problems. I’ve learnt the hard way, especially with the mold in the lean-to area where I brew and ensuring good ventilation is essential. I’ve a range of chemicals for cleaning and santising and it takes a good hour to clear up once the wort is safely in the fermentor.

Top Tips: some thoughts on the best bits I’ve learnt through the last 12 months.

  1. Brewing diary : I record each of the brews in the diary including timings, ingredients and measurements. I used to record gravities, starch content and temperatures to some level of detail, but now that’s only for new recipes and I’ll take the OG going into the kettle to see if I’ve got the measurements right, but for the mild, 12kg base malt + 1.2kg colour/flavour malts gets 70l into the kettle at around 1.036 OG.
  2. Brew Day Timing : From start (lighting the HTL) to finish (last bit of cleaning) a brew day will take 7-8 hours and whilst there are times (during the mash and the boil) where you can do other things, it tends to need attention all the way through. Automation can shorten the recirculation and sparge times, but being patient and methodical pays off, as does experience.
  3. Practice. The first brew was a bit chaotic (though Karl came to help) and ended up with a fermentation that didn’t want to happen, so Brew #1 wasn’t great. However, only one other failure since then and whilst some of the beer hasn’t been great, from brew #15 onwards it’s been relatively successful (even if I say so myself)
  4. Understanding What’s Happening. Getting into the books and articles on brewing have really helped me understand what’s happening even with basic brews, especially why things are done certain ways. Diacetyl rests for example, when fermenting lagers make all the difference to remove the butterscotch flavours, which are okay in ales, but not in lagers. I’m now doing the same for the bitter, to get a fresher cleaner taste.
  5. Good kit. There was an upfront investment on the brewing for the Powell brewing kit (much less for its second hand big brother) but this has really paid off 23 brews later. Items like the heat exchanger make the job really easier and whilst I could go further with a HERMS system, this will be something to think about further down the road.
Beer on tap, getting the right beer with food is good, though mild with chicken tagine is an interesting combination

The End Product. This makes it all worthwhile. To start with you’ll drink anything you brew (well you’ve got to haven’t you) but as the quality of your brews increase, so do your own expectations. Luckily the standard has got better, with the cask-conditioned mild produced for Christmas 2019 possibly the peak brew (right time, right place).

Finished product (early pour from the previous bitter brew), clarity improves in the keg after 2-3 days.
Bertrand’s bitter in fine form on a dank February afternoon
Canning as it’s benefits, Dan Evans at the Telford Off Road Show, February 2020.

References   [ + ]

1. Mynwent is Welsh for graveyard, which is Kierkegaard in Danish
2. Especially during the Covid19 lockdown, as you send cans relatively cheaply using Hermes, will let you know if they make it

1 reply on “Brew #23 : a brewing year”

Great write up Malc. The output of the Core of the Poodle brewery has been much appreciated in Llandod… and not just by me.

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