For my first batch of homebrew, I decided to build my own recipe. I wanted to create a light, refreshing ale to reflect the seasonal changes here in England as the first few colours of spring appear after a long, grey winter.
I decided to stick to an extract recipe for my first brew, as I was not confident enough to start mashing grains with no prior experience. I used BeerSmith software to help build my recipe; the interface is fantastic and makes for easy calculation of IBUs, gravities and alcohol content. I based my recipe on the BJCP style guide for Extra Special/Strong Bitter (Style number 8C), although Beersmith calculated the colour as 8.2EBC which is under the style guidelines for Extra Special Bitter, the beer turned out exactly the right colour for the style. Here’s the recipe I decided upon:
Batch Volume: 3 Gallons/15 litres
Boil Volume: 2 gallons/10 litres
3kg Cooper’s Pale Ale Liquid Malt Extract
40 grams Fuggles 8.5%AA – 60 minute boil
10 grams East Kent Goldings 4%AA – last 15 Minutes of boil
10 grams Fuggles 8.5AA – last 5 minutes of boil
1tsp Irish moss – last 15 minutes of boil
1 packet Munton’s Premium Beer Yeast
Original Gravity: 1.060
Final Gravity: 1.014
Bitterness: 35.8 IBUs
Alcohol By Volume: 6.00%ABV
Miraculously my first brew day went without any problems at all! The best decision I made was to buy some hop bags at the homebrew store, these worked just like teabags and meant that I didn’t need to filter the wort as I poured it from the pot to the fermentation vessel. I also put my irish moss into the hop bag with the Goldings (although I’m not sure that this is best practice).
Fermentation was pretty violent and within 4 hours there was plenty of airlock activity – a 3″ thick krausen coated the surface of the wort after 48 hours and didn’t sink for 5 days. The krausen completely sank into the wort on the 5th day, and airlock activity halted. I tested the gravity using my hydrometer and it had not yet reached final gravity; in fact it took 7 days of primary fermentation to reach the final gravity of 1.014.
At this point I should have left the beer in the primary fermentation vessel for another 7 days for the yeast to clean up after themselves (this is called a Diacetyl rest). Instead, my over-eagerness got the better of me and I racked the beer to secondary. I added 1.5 grams of gelatin, dissolved fully in warm water (do NOT boil the gelatin!) as a fining agent which helped clear the beer greatly. I moved the beer in the secondary fermentation vessel into a fridge in my shed to cold crash it and clear the beer, then after two days I racked it into a Cornelius Keg and force carbonated it over 3 days.
Amber, almost red beer, slightly cloudy with dense egg shell coloured head. Fantastic head retention.
Almost syrupy – definitely not as light as I had intended but the carbonation balanced the syrupiness and made for a reasonable finish.
Instant hit of bananas and toffee – very heavy aroma.
Strong banana esters, probably due to a high fermentation temperature. Also hints of green apple which suggest that I racked from primary into secondary too soon. The taste is almost banoffee, with a subtle brown-sugar taste. This isn’t what I was going for; in fact all of these flavours indicate improper brewing techniques. The most important thing to note though, is that it doesn’t taste at all bad! It’s very drinkable, and others have said that the fruity esters work well and do not spoil the beer. One thing to note is that you wouldn’t think that it was 6% from drinking it, although after the second pint you start to realise just how strong it is! The beer has a sweet, malty taste with the bitterness of the hops overpowering their aroma (stupidly I used aroma hops for both bittering, and aroma!). That said, the floral taste of the Fuggles hops cut through the bitterness and give the beer a clean, balanced finish.
Notes: Will definately brew this next March and learn from my previous mistakes.
So to recap, the first brew day went well and I ended up with a very drinkable first beer! I will be taking this along to my local pub and get a few second opinions from the staff and locals, but I’ll give it a few weeks in the bottle first!
Thanks for reading, and feel free to post comments; constructive criticism is always welcome!
– Henry Carless