Drinking in Cornwall.

Cornwall is a beautiful place. On a Sunny day with a gentle breeze nothing can beat it. The views, the history, the beer…

I could bore you with great photos of all the lovely places we visited whilst on holiday. But the honest truth is all you want to read about is the beer. So here we go…

Skinners Brewery:

I have to be honest and say that until now it’s rare that I have tried Skinners beers. The brewery have been running since 1997 and are based in Truro, where brewery tours happen daily. As well as trying the three above (Porthleven pale ale, Lushingtons pale ale and Hops ‘n’ Honey honeyed ale) from bottle I also got the opportunity to try Cornish Knocker golden ale on tap at the Red Lion in Newquay.

It’s fair to say that all of these beers are tasty. But my favourite overall had to be Hops ‘n’ Honey. A really delicate taste of honey wrapped up in a bubbly and effervescent ale, with hints of tangerine and toffee. It all comes together so nicely, and being a lover of citrus in beer this was always going to be a favourite for me.

Sharps Brewery:

Despite my love for beers made my Sharps, this holiday has been more about discovery than going back to what I know. As a result only two pints of Sea Fury were drunk whilst away (there might have been a cheeky Doom Bar, I can’t remember).

The beer is still a decent pint, better off the tap than in the bottle, and still takes me back to my first pint of it in Rock several years ago. Roasted grains, fruity flavours, heavy. This is a decent beer that you dont need to many of to enjoy. A good long evening pint.

St Austell:

All hail St Austell. Im going to go out on a limb here and say that I might have a new favourite brewery.

Ive always been a fan of Trbute. It’s just a beautiful beer in any weather on any day. Session strength with delicate flavours and consistently great whether its out of a bottle or in the pub, but since St Austell and Bath Ales have teamed up, the portfolio is becoming amazing.

I’d already recommended Hicks to Life after football as a cracking (strong) special ale that has made its way onto the supermarket shelves. However on tap, at a St Austell pub, in Mevagissey…it doesn’t get much better really. Strong and full bodied, with hints of toffee this is such a beautiful beer. It’s thanks to this fella’s blog that I have also added a new page to mine, locating all the decent boozers I’ve been to both in Cornwall and where I live now. It’s live now and you can view it here (or by clicking the tab ‘pubs etc’ at the top).

Also worth a notable mention is the complex and flavoursome Mena Dhu stout. A beer that blows Bath Ales’ Darkside right out of the water. Chocolate and coffee flavours blend with a delicately hopped beer that requires nothing more than an open fire on a winters evening (I didn’t have these in July, but I did have a BBQ and about 22 degress in the evening…).

Sayzon is a decent take on a saison, and is certainly something I’ll be thinking about when I improve my own saison recipe in time to come. Very bubbly and excellent head retention. A lovely midday / early evening cold beer that is definitely refreshing.

Proper Black is a really nice black IPA that reminded me very much of my own liquor-ish recipe. There was greater body to this though, and the beer has definitely been hopped beyond any measureable level. You only need one!

Randoms:

Im not going to go through all of these. Ultimately these were beers I had bought for me while away. However I will point out Padstow’s ‘The Smoke’ oatmeal stout (actually, just go to Padstow and hit the tap room, you wont be disappointed!) was very tasty, Hobgoblin’s IPA which I have said previously is the best IPA out there right now and then Eagle Breweries Sticky Toffee ale I have to say was beautiful and very toffee flavoured.

And now the holiday is over, its back to the mundane jobs. Thank you Cornwall. You never fail to amaze me.

#BrewDay part 1 – SourDough Saison.

It’s true what they say, practice makes perfect. Almost…

11am Saturday morning. All clean and ready to go.

Brewday appears to get better every time I do one. This particular day ran as efficiently as it could have done and I’m quite proud of myself for getting a little routine going now that doesn’t involve clanging pots and pans everywhere and the occasional expletive.

It was quite handy that I was only working with one grain. 1kg maris otter golden promise that had already been crushed and just needed chucking into the mash tun. I left this for an hour as usual, however I am beginning to get the feeling that I need to leave my mash for longer as I am not convinced all of the sugar was converted. Having spoken to a few people on Facebook I think it’s time I started iodine testing to make sure the mash efficiency is hitting the higher percentages than what it currently is. I could just chuck more grain in, but surely that’s the lazy way??? Like I said at the start, practice makes perfect.

The boil went really well, having now mastered the rolling boil on the induction hob. Northern brewer and styrian goldings also gave the house a pleasant ‘booze is on the way’ smell.

Brewfather helping along the way. Really enjoying using this.

The big change of course was the use of a sourdough yeast starter as opposed to a normal packet ale yeast. I wasn’t sure what to expect or how long fermentation would take, if it started at all.

Three days later and the bubbling commenced. Mini fist pumps aplenty and at the time of writing this we have been bubbling for 2 weeks with no signs of slowing down. I consider that a victory for the ever resilient sourdough starter (which can now claim to work at temperatures from 5-20 degrees C as well as convert multiple types of sugar, Darwin would be proud). Also have to note the need for a blow off tube as fermentation got a little rowdy at one point (check out the picture for a bit of quick thinking improvisation).

I am aiming to dry hop and add a bit of lemon peel to the vessel this week, give it a little longer and then bottle up. Hopefully this will be ready for the Summer holidays. But whether it comes out as sour or saison, I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

#BakeDay – Spent Grain Doggy Treats

Now admittedly it’s a little embarrassing that it has been ages since I have added a baking recipe to my blog, even worse that it’s not for human consumption. However these doggy treats are a great way to use up spent grain after a brew day, and provide a good source of fibre for dogs.

The recipe is simple enough, but what you need is time, as in order to ensure they last as long as possible they really need to be dried out low and slow. I also chuck mine in the freezer and get them out when needed. This prevents the chances of them going mouldy.

One thing to note is that for this recipe I used cup measurements, purely because it was easier to handle the grain in this way. I also let the grain rest for one day after the brew so that as much liquid naturally dripped out as possible.

Recipe: Spent Grain Doggy Treats

  • 4 cups spent grain
  • 2 cups flour (I used bread flour, but plain would work too)
  • 1 cup peanut butter (sod the cup, just buy a tub and chuck it in)
  • 2 eggs

Preheat oven to 170 degrees C fan

Put all the ingredients in a mixing bowl and mix until it has all come together (it will be a little on the sticky side).

Flour a kitchen surface and roll out your dough to about 1 cm thick. Using a cookie cutter, cut out your treats and place onto a baking tray that has been lined with aluminium foil.

Place into the heated oven for 30 minutes. When this time is up, drop the temp to 100 degrees C and leave in the oven for 2 hours. When finished, cool on a wire rack.

Brewing with Bread

Quick update before I shoot off to work this morning. Have been building a recipe for a saison that I hope to start drinking over the summer months (I say start, I’m hoping I can hold at least one back for a year).

My main aim with this test batch however is to ferment it using my own sourdough starter. This starter is well over a year now and has a really complex taste which I am hoping to replicate in my home brew. I imagine fermentation may be quite a tricky stage this time round, as the yeast/bacteria will have a new food source to convert. But hey, nothing ventured…

Can they convert wort?

I have been using BrewFather to build the recipe, and have decided on a single malt, dual hop recipe using Golden Promise malt and Northern Brewer/Styrian Goldings hops. I’m hoping this will give a nice pale beer (potentially cloudy) with a good lemon aroma. I will also dry hop with a little Northern Brewer and lemon zest, potentially for a week.

Should start brewing this weekend, so will let you know how I get on!

Lost in the real world…

It’s true, the last few weeks have been so full on I haven’t had the opportunity to write anything on here. Baking and brewing has continued, however in between that has been gatherings, mini breaks, family time, work (well, it has to be I guess) and a welcome new addition…

Rather than write about it all, here are a few photos for you to enjoy. More posts will come soon I promise!

Enjoy, Iian.

When hobbies become a bit obsessive…

Well it’s true to say that for the last several weeks I haven’t really been paying that much attention to a few things. Namely this blog, sourdough baking (my starter almost died) or indeed brewing beer. Seems daft considering these are the things I love doing. However there are a few reasons.

Firstly, and probably the biggest one is work. Major stresses over the last few weeks have left me in a right mood and not in the right place to do anything constructive, but that’s all sorted now so can’t really use that as an excuse. The second one however plays a part in brewing, but I never thought this would happen to me.

IKEA – Tillreda portable induction heater £35

Remember I said ages ago that this was going to be a bit of a hobby. A bit of an opportunity for some me time. This was never going to be about getting into big brewing systems and making competition ales (really, it still isn’t). I never thought for one second I would walk into IKEA on a Saturday afternoon and see a portable induction heater and get all excited about the fact I could finally move out of the kitchen. Yes that’s right, I spent near enough £200 on induction heaters and new stock pots so I could finally start brewing in my own little room, away from the daily family goings on. Up until this point the equipment I had been using amounted to around £40, but I definitely needed this. This new kit will really take my beer to the next level (it’s amazing what you will say to convince yourself).

This is the point when I literally lost 10 days of my life. This was the evening I discovered BrewFather.

Liquor-ish has had a bit of a makeover.

Now to be clear, I wasn’t looking for a recipe builder because that didn’t interest me. I was happy just plonking it all in and seeing how it would turn out. But then whilst looking through my Instagram updates I see one of my posts has been liked by the BrewFather himself. I have no idea who this is, I click on the profile, and down the rabbit hole I go.

This app is both insanely amazing and (if you are a novice like me) crazily infuriating. But it’s that addictive you can’t pull yourself away from it. The user interface is clean, intuitive and well laid out in my opinion. I love the fact the beer icon changes colour as you add grain too to give the visual example of the end product. The inventory is also a great addition for larger brewers, and for those who are interested in following beer guidelines there are several style guidelines from many Scandinavian countries as well as Brewers Association and BJCP.

The equipment profiles section is the part that caused me the greatest headache. Obviously using stockpots and demijohns there isn’t a profile for this and I’m not about to buy a grainfather yet, so a lot of my time has been spent working out dead spaces and boil off percentages. Some of it I admit is guess work and tinkering will happen in the future, but the vast majority of it involved pulling equipment out and measuring stuff like this properly for the first time. But now that is set up the rest should be a doddle, right?

There are other recipe builders out there online and for free. BrewFather signs you up on the premium plan straight away with no obligation to continue (dropping you down to the free plan after 30 days). I think for small home brewers the free version should be enough, but if you want to keep premium features it’ll cost you $19.99 a year, which to be fair isn’t that bad. Im not sure I’ll need it yet though.

I’ll be running the app on a batch for the first time this weekend. Let’s see how things go.

Are you a BrewFather user? What are your thoughts? Feel free to leave a comment below.

My Sourdough starter.

It’s true that over the last few weeks I haven’t paid as much attention to my baking as I have my brewing. Sure I’ve been making bread, but the bulk of my time has been spent on fermenting beer, making label designs and of course writing about it.

That doesn’t mean I haven’t kept an eye on my starter though. The very thing that keeps my bread addiction alive needs a little care and attention every now and then. But is it really as highly skilled and scientific as some people make it out to be? Just a simple search for sourdough starters on the likes of Instagram and Twitter brings a barrage of posts. Bakers pour images of their creations daily, including high res images of starters that are 5/10/15 years old. Born in one country, fed with expensive rare flours as often as 3 times a week. You can even buy a starter from these people if you want. To a new baker this can make sourdough baking a little off putting, but is it really this complicated and time consuming…

In a word, no.

That’s not to say these bakers are deliberately making sourdough baking look hard. We all have our rituals but you have to remember that this was the original way of making bread. Long before the varieties of flours and fancy feeding pots that we have now. As for the feeding rituals, mine gets fed about once a week, but I have left it as long as 3 weeks and it has been fine. It’s fair to say that occasionally a little bit of neglect brings out the best in it.

My current starter is about a year old. I’m not going for any age records here, its just how long I have been using it. After the first few weeks where there were definite changes in its flavour and smell profile, it settled down to what I have now which is an active sourdough starter that produces nice consistent loaves of bread with a great flavour profile. There has hardly been any difference in it since those initial first few months, and that is because the yeast and bacteria cultures inside the starter are established. They have made their home, and its going to be hard for anything new to compete against them. My starter is that consistent now, I’m actually considering culturing it for my brewing (more on that in time to come).

My starter is as simple as you will get. It involves a 1 week prep stage to build the microbe cultures, but after that, you’re good to go.

Sourdough starter recipe:

Preparation:

  • 1 x airtight container ideally 1.5 – 2L
  • 1x 1.5kg strong white bread flour
  • approx 350ml tepid water
  • 1x mixing bowl
  • 1x wooden spoon

Method:

Mix 500g of the flour with the water. You are looking for a wettish dough (batter like) that you can mix with a little resistance on the spoon. Leave in the mixing bowl in the open air for about 5-10 minutes and then spoon into the air tight container and close the lid. Mark on the side of the jar where the starter has settled. Leave for 3 days in an area where there wont be massive fluctuations in temperature.

When the three days are up, check the level on the side of the jar. You should be able to notice a little bit of movement, and you may see small bubbles. This means your starter is active. Empty the starter into a bowl, discard half and add in 250g bread flour and enough tepid water to bring the starter back to its original consistency. Chuck it back in the airtight container (it’s up to you if you want to wash your container, I don’t at this stage) and leave for 24/48 hours.

Check for bubbles again. If they are present, your starter is ready to use. You can either chuck out half again and repeat the previous step (to begin the process of feeding, if you aren’t ready to bake just yet), or start baking with it.

Feeding on:

I tend to feed mine once a week. As I bake 1 family loaf a week, I don’t throw half out, I just use it in my baking and replace what I use. Generally that is 250g of strong white bread flour and enough water to bring it back to that batter like consistency, about 170-190ml. I always leave for atleast 24 hours before using it again so that the microbe cultures can re-establish themselves.

Other things you can do:

You can put your starter in the fridge if you aren’t going to use it for a while. Feed it, give it a few hours to re-establish then bung it in. I have left mine for up to 3 weeks in the past and it has still been fine. Just let it come back up to room temperature before you use it.

A little separation like this isn’t a bad thing.

Some bakers like to add fruit to their starters so that the microbes utilise the fruit sugars. I don’t personally do this. But if you want to you have to incorporate it into regular feeding. You wont get the tastes of a grape infused starter if you only use grapes once. Consistency is the key.

And that is it. That is your key to making great tasting loaves. No complicated science, no expensive equipment. So what’s stopping you?

Sourdough bakers – what are your key bits of advice when making a starter?  Feel free to leave a comment below.

#BrewDay part 3 – Liquorice Stout, bottling and initial tasting

B&B presents Liquor-ish.

So bottling day came and went and I can honestly say that I still despise the process as much as the last time I did it, it’s just such a faff. The only reason why I bottled this time is because I have an over excited grandparent who insists on poaching a brew every time I make one. I know I shouldn’t mind, but when you brew in small batches every brew counts, right?

Slight moaning aside (and self confirmation that kegging will be the primary way forward from now on) the day went with no hassles. It actually became a really good father/daughter session with the little one helping me label up the bottles and drop the carbonation drops into each bottle.

Once all the bottles had been completed and capped, it was onto that terribly scientific business of checking the FG and having that initial taste. Now I’m not going to lie, I was a little excited at this stage…

Gravity and ABV

  • Original Gravity = 1.050
  • Final Gravity – 1.010
  • ABV = approx 5.3%

Colour/Tasting/Mouthfeel

Jet black stout in my opinion. Shone a torch through the back and barely saw anything, so really pleased with that!

Initial tasting brought a sigh of relief in that I had a tasty beer and nothing had gone wrong. What I also noticed was a nice thickness to the beer that coated the mouth nicely. There was a clear and distinct bitterness thanks to the Columbus hops that I had used at the start, middle and end of the boil. I was worried about using them as aroma hops but actually I am happy with the effects in the end product.

The bitterness stays, but eventually you begin to notice the slight hint of liquorice coming through, this then gives way to the aniseed aroma, which again is slight, but noticeable. I was worried about an overpowering liquorice taste in this first brew, but it seems to have worked out nicely. Towards the end you get a hit of chocolate which I am not sure compliments what else is going on and I may have to look back at the grain bill to see if I can remove it a little.

I opened up a bottle about 3 days later (couldn’t wait…) just to see how carbonation was going. I was really pleased with the head that formed as I poured and can happily report the mouthfeel stayed relatively consistent to the initial taste. I was so happy with it that I celebrated by opening another one.

Final Thoughts

As a first non kit brew goes. I have to say I am happy with it. What I have here is a drinkable beer that also has a bit of character about it. It can certainly be refined and already my attention is turning to adding aroma hops with an aniseed flavour and potentially some lactose to thicken it up (although that’s not a necessity in my opinion). I might also ramp up the liquorice addition. It may benefit from a lowering of bitterness, but that can come from messing around with the hop additions. Not a bad start though.

Home brewers, have you made a liquorice stout before? Do you add anything  else in to give your stout an edge? I’d love to hear your thoughts.  Please feel free to leave a comment below.

Liquor-ish

Liquorice and star anise infused stout

Method: all grain

Grain Bill / Adjuncts:

GrainAmount
Maris otter pale malt1kg
Dark crystal malt100g
Roasted barley100g
Flaked oats100g
Liquorice root (added at final hop addition)2.5g
Toasted star anise (added at final hop addition)1

Hops:

HopAmountTiming
Columbus10g60 mins
Columbus10g25 mins
Columbus10g10 mins

Yeast:

Gervin English ale yeast GV12

Mash Schedule:

  • Strike Temp = 76 degrees C
Mash Water volume (ltr)TimeTemp degrees C
31 hour67
  • Mash out = 76 degrees C for 10 minutes
  • Sparge Water = 5 litres at 76 degrees C
  • Total collection of wort from sparge = 5.8 litres
  • Boil time = 1 hour

Gravity and ABV:

  • Expected OG = 1.050
  • Expected FG = 1.010
  • Expected ABV = 5.3%

Bottle Labels:

#BrewDay part 2 – Liquorice Stout, reflecting on the day.

So it’s been a week. The bubbling is starting to slow down and thoughts begin to turn to bottling. But first I felt it important to reflect on the brew day in itself. It’s the first time I had flown solo without the instructions of a kit and I have to be honest, it was a bit nerve wracking!

My very own brewery…sort of. Everything hidden in the cupboards!

The biggest issue I found was getting the wort to boiling point before adding the first hop addition. This is something I have done countless times before but I think this time I had collected a little more liquid than what I normally do. Knock on effect? Boil over, not helped by the fact that in my eagerness to put the first hop addition in I caused that boil over to be a bit more violent than it should have been. Hey ho, lesson learnt.

Also, with a hint of experimentation in me I decided to add a handful of columbus hops in 25 mins before the end of the boil as an extra addition I hadn’t planned for. Only time will tell its effect. Who knows, I might be onto a winner…

I did have a slight worry about the yeast I was using (Muntons) as it wasn’t the one I had planned for and had to get a substitute in. However after a few hours the air lock was bubbling away like mad and I can’t complain. There is a nice thick cake in the bottom of the demijohn now, and I have observed loads of activity over the last week.

Additions wise I read about a liquorice stout recipe produced by the bloggers two thirsty gardeners, who add 5g liquorice to their brew and 40g total of hops. This is roughly double what my additions were of these, so depending on how my brew tastes version 2 may have to have increased additions and hops. We’ll just have to see.

Lovely recipes in here!

Other things that have happened this week. I managed to find Randy Mosher’s Mastering Homebrew for a £2.89 flash sale bargain on the Google play store (and subsequently found it for £1.89 in the kindle book store) which I have almost finished. Pretty decent book if you enjoy reading about home brewing, and certainly a good book for beginners and those that want to get into the science of brewing. I also found a great Facebook community that are already helping me out with questions I have. So all in all, a good week!

Have a good week everybody, leave a comment and happy brewing!