You may have heard of Stir-up Sunday, it’s apparently when you’re supposed to mix the christmas cake mixture in penty of time for it to bake and mature. Much more important (well to me) is Mash up Friday, which is when I have to brew the beer in order for it to be ready in time for the festive Season.
One of the good things about making my own beer is that I get to choose all the ingredients. The base ingredient in all beers is malted barley – unless of course it’s a wheat beer in which case it’s malted wheat. In this case it’s organic malted Barley, Maris Otter a Pale Malt, from the Warminster Maltings – which is still a traditional floor malting.
By choosing organic I don’t expect the beer to taste better (though it might well and it certainly won’t be worse) but it does say a lot about how the crop was grown and the fields and environment it was grown in. I’m not as concerned about the hops as English hop gardens are rare enough as it is but I don’t particularly want my grain to come from a sterile industrial substrate of a field with no margin and no hedges. Since I was taught to make beer I’ve been amazed at how consist the process is and that a very few ingredients, water, malted grains and hops (and sugar if you use it) can be balanced to produce a range of beers. In this respect it’s very like cooking. You don’t expect to produce a great result from a recipe unless you are satisfied with the quality of each ingredient, and paying for quality ingredients doesn’t necessarily have to cost a fortune. I expect the overall cost of the beer to be less than 50p a pint and I’m regularly told that it compares well with commercial real ales.
In addition to the pale malt a small amount of crystal malt goes in, which is a darker more complex malt and is used to give body to the beer.
In the case of my winter brew recipe I also add a very small amount of wheat malt and all the ingredients are mashed or cooked in the tun at 66degrees C for around 90 minutes to extract the starches and sugars from the grains. I use a simple and fairly cheap polyplastic bucket fitted with a thermostatic heater element and a tap to drain off the resulting wort (or malt extract).
A lot of the sugary wort is still on the grains and I sparge (spray with almost boiling water) to wash off the rest of the malt extract.
Then the hops are added and the wort is boiled up for a further 90 minutes together with any sugars that might be added. For the winter brew I want a richer, sweeter beer with a darker reddish glow to the colour so I add dark brown soft sugar (and a bit of dark brown muscovado) together with some molasses. For anyone who knows it, this beer is designed to be quite like Gales HSB as it used to be (before Fullers bought the Brewery) though for christmas I make it a little darker and sweeter with a hint of spice coming from the muscovado and molasses.
After boiling up the brew is drained off the hops and into the fermenting vessel (bucket) and once cool enough the yeast is added (Safale S-04) which is specially designed for English real ales and bitters. It will take another 5 days to ferment and then be racked into a conditioning vessel with a small amount more hops added (top hopping) just to give it the smell and taste of the hops when poured – East Kent Goldings and Brambling Cross are the varieties in this brew.
Finally I will bottle it adding a half teaspoon more brown sugar for it to condition in the bottle for a couple of weeks before its ready to drink – though the longer you can leave it the better. The original gravity of this brew is 1050 which should give it upto 6% alcohol if it ferments out completely so it will be a very traditional strong, dark slightly sweet and spicy winter beer, best served in front of a blazing log fire.