If you can have ‘Stir up Sunday’ when you make the mixture for the Christmas Cake then I reckon it’s equally important not to forget ‘Mash up Monday’ the last chance to brew a special beer for the festive season! Yes I’m talking mashing and sparging again.
It does take at least a couple of weeks to finish a brew and mine take longer as they condition at a lower temperature than is usual, so I’m a little late with this reminder and I hope you were busy mashing and sparging a couple of weeks ago as was I.
The ‘mash’ is the mixture of grain heated in liquor (thats water to most of us) to extract the sugars which can be then be fermented. For the Winter brew I’ve used a pale malt (bottom of photo), crystal malt (right) and also some roasted barley(left).
One of the great things about making your own brews from scratch is that you can choose exactly the ingredients you would like and increasingly I take an interest in their provenance. Pale malted barley or ‘pale malt’ is the basis for all English ‘real ales’ and it comes in a range of varieties and types. I buy mine in 25kg sacks from the Warminster maltings, one of a very few traditional floor maltings still operating in England. Malting starts by spraying the grain with water to make it germinate and then halting the germination by kiln drying or heating the barley. The malting process converts the starches in the barley into sugars which can then be extacted by ‘mashing’ the grains.
Normally I buy ‘maris otter’ which is the classic variety for brewing real ales, but recently I’ve been trying out the organic pale malt which is a spring barley variety called ‘Quench’.
The bulk of the grain in the mash is pale malt, approximately 3kg for a 5 gallon (yes I do always mix up imperial and SI units) brew but on its own the beer would lack flavour, body and colour so depending upon the character of the beer you are after you can add small amounts of other types of barley. I’ve added more crystal malted barley than I normally do just to increase the fullness of the flavour for the winter beer and I’ve also added just a little roasted barley to deepen the colour and add that slightly smokey, not to say burnt flavour, but I’ll balance that off with my winter secret weapon later on in the recipe.
All of the grains are added to the brewing water or liquor and mashed at 66 degrees (C) for at least 90 minutes to convert as much of the starch to sugar which is then drawn off as the wort – in reality we’re making malt extract in this phase of the brew, but I get to control exactly how the malt is extracted.
Once the wort is draw off after about 90 minutes you are left with hot sticky grain in the mash tun (a plastic variety in my case) but there is still a lot of good malt sticking to the grains so they are rinsed or ‘sparged’ with near boiling water spraying from a rotating sparging arm which helps extract all of the malt that we can from the grain.
In the second phase of the brew the malt is boiled up and the hops are added. I’ve used Fuggles and East Kent Goldings, two very traditional English varieties in this brew. Depending upon the type of beer being brewed some other ingredients may also be added, sugars for example. Cheap homebrews will often just add white granulated sugars, but they don’t do the beer any favours. Brewers will often use more complicated sugars like malto-dextrose, known as ‘brewing sugar’ which is more like the invert sugars extracted from the grain but as this is a winter brew I’ll be adding my secret weapon – Soft Dark Brown Sugar. Yum!
Once the boiling is done the wort is poured off again through a hop strainer to leave the hops behind and left to cool before pitching in the yeast (I use Safale S04) and the fermentation begins. Perhaps the most magical part of a brew as it can be very hard to believe that this disgusting looking bin of brown crusty bubbling toxic liquid is about to transform itself into a perfect brew – but it really does!
I prefer to bottle my brews which adds an extra stage to the process but it does get around the need to drink 5 gallons in one go and makes it a little easier to give away to those brave enough to try it. Of course I do need to sample the brew regularly just to make sure its upto standard and I’m pleased to say that this one is.
I call this recipe Hammer Special Bitter or HSB and any confusion with ‘HSB’, originally brewed by Gales of Horndean before they were bought out by Fullers and the brewery promptly shut down is Entirely Intentional.