with the occasional rant about tin openers...

Friday, April 4, 2014

Sluggish Hop Plants

If your hop plant isn't really taking off already, for example the buds are still at ground level, check the soil for Vine Weevil larvae. These small white grubs, about the size of a two cent coin, eat through the roots around the main plant, and leave your plant struggling to grow. I found 25 in one pot. One is too many.

The pictures below are of the larvae and of the damage that they do. They leave behind a light orange sawdust, and severed rhizomes.

To check your hop:
1 - give the stump a wiggle. If it's loose then you probably have a problem.
2 - Dig around the plant. It won't mind. It knows it's for the greater good. They're really easy to spot, bright white against the soil. They will mostly be within the top inch or two (deeper if you mulched like a good boy/girl).
3 - If you find any, do your best to dig around the whole plant where the soil feels loose and pick them all out. Destroy them by squashing or drowning.
4 - While you're there, pick out anything else that isn't a worm. Leatherjackets (weird fleshy brown tubes, the larvae of Daddy Long Legs), slugs and millipedes (the black ones).
5 - check the soil before you put any back, or better still, replace it with fresh compost.

Do it now while the hop is still feeding on it's rootstock. Don't worry about little white roots.

Fundamental critter rule: If it's slow, it's got to go. If it's fast, ... something something last.

It's April 4th, and most of my hop plants are putting out bull-shoots and several other smaller shoots, so the ones that are struggling are pretty conspicuous in their sluggishness. Check them or you'll get no hops.


Vine Weevile Larvae. AaaaaarGH!

If you have them in one pot, you're likely to have them in all. Check! They seem to prefer pots to plants in the ground, so far...

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Hop Plant Bull Shoots

It's the time of year when hops start having big ideas again. Two sunny days and they're OFF!

You may have heard about 'trimming the first gamey shoots', or 'removing the bull shoots' and not been clear which they are. Well, here's a photo.

The bull shoot is about 6 inches long where the others are barely an inch. In this photo, of a second year First Gold, there are two bullshoots that are both over half a foot. After this photograph was taken I cut them back to ground level in order to let the others grow. Eventually I will select only two or three of these to grow on, and snip back the rest.

Bull shoots are no good as the internodal distance, or gaps between the leaves are quite large. Seeing as the cones are produced here, in order to get a higher yield you need more nodes, which you get in the later shoots.

For now though, that is all you need to do with the hops. The second set of shoots will grow at a steadier pace, so you've nothing more to do this week.

Next job: Putting the bines to string.
For more information on hop growing, visit:
This picture was taken on 3rd April.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Judging at the National Homebrew Club competition

It's a tough job but someone's got to do it!

1st March, St. David's Day, and I've to catch the 0430 bus to Dublin. It's a long trip down, but it's the last in the series of my journey to becoming a judge. It's been emotional.

The last beer before lunch.
The day started with registration; getting your name badge and picking what you want for lunch. I was asked to judge category 10A, American Pale Ales, so sat down at a table next to Sarah, owner of the new N17 brewery in Tuam. It was a pleasure to judge alongside Sarah, who certainly knows her stuff. We were within 2 or 3 marks on all beers, so allocating a score was fairly straightforward.

Once we'd judged our flights, a total of 9 beers, I think Sarah went and found the Stout table and I settled amongst the American IPAs - as if I hadn't already had all the hops I could take!

The judging was quite easy in terms of picking which beers suited the style more than others, but filling in all the spaces was a little tricky on some scoresheets. I hope the information I put in is useful to the brewers.

After that I sat down to clear my palate and head for the mini Best Of Show round, which took place once all the category 10 beers had been judged. That left me and Ronan about 18 beers to sort through and pick the best.

Sorting through 18 beers to quickly asses which deserves to go through to the Best Of Show in Cork was like drinking 18 shots of beer. The aul head was spinning by the end of it.

As bus o'clock drew rapidly nearer, the silver medal in category 1 was announced, and it was me! A quick gulp of champagne, a handshake or two and I ran off out the room, up the street with a big grin on my face!

I had a fantastic time. The taxi driver who took me to the bus at 4am asked me if I was getting paid for judging, or even getting travel allowances. To be honest, with all those lovely beers, people and the craic, I'd nearly consider paying for the privilege of judging again. Thanks to Renier, our steward, as well as all the other stewards who helped us in the miniBOS.

What a day.

Interested in being a part of Ireland's biggest homebrew community?

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

One Step Closer

This morning I passed the BJCP online exam. It's a 200 questions in 1 hour exam, with questions usually about style comparisons, or what elements you'd expect in a beer style.

I answered all the questions, although I'm quite sure not all of them were right. The Multiple Choice Multiple Answer questions were tricky enough.

To celebrate I'm drinking a small glass of under-carbonated and under-attenuated Irish Red Ale, which clearly demonstrates that good at theory is not good at practice.

Nevertheless, I'm now a Provisional Judge, ready to take the tasting exam in Dublin this weekend.

What does one wear to a tasting exam, when it coincides with a Welsh-Irish 6Nations rugby match...

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Happy New Year again.

This must be my fourth or fifth new year as a homebrewer by now.

First, thanks to anyone who got in touch this past year to leave comments or ask questions. I hope I was helpful, and will try to do more of the same this year. To that end I'm:
  • a few weeks off becoming a BJCP approved beer judge
  • putting my name on the judging list for the NHC
  • taking an online course in Beer Chemistry from Oklahoma University
  • still brewing many and varied beer styles
  • growing ingredients to make some very personal beer
But I won't be doing the following:
  • a dry January.
Firstly, and with huge thanks to certain members of the National Homebrew Club here in Ireland (with a supporting part played by Bus Eirann), I'm well on my way to becoming a beer judge. With only a few more weeks until the beer tasting exam (with no less than BJCP President Gordon Strong as proctor), I've to continue tasting beers (harder work than it sounds) and sit an hour-long online exam.

Meanwhile, I'll continue to feel out-of-my-depth learning about beer biochemistry, with words like Polysaccharides and 1,4 - alpha linkages.

Brewing Botanicals
I've beer to brew, including some for the March 1st Nationals held by the National Homebrew Club in Dublin, and I've been promised a Brewferm Mash Kit by HomebrewWest.ie to review.

Finally, I'll be growing Yarrow, Wormwood, Sage, Tansy, Hops, Bog Myrtle and so on, in order to make the most interesting beer Mov-town has ever tasted.

For now though, I'm going to finish up my notes on Lipids, have a cup of tea, and think about the next blog post: "How to be come a Beer Judge".

If you find any of the above interesting, there's a good chance I'll mention it some more in the following posts. For now though,

Happy New Year.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Brewing Britain - Andy Hamilton

Congratulations to author and forager Andy Hamilton, of Booze for Free fame, on the release of his latest book, Brewing Britain. 

Available in all good book stores, and Amazon.
Brewing Britain takes you on a trip through brewing history, buying and growing almost all of the ingredients, malting barley, and drying hops, and plenty more besides.

But most of this is preamble to the main point of the book: brewing beers of the styles commonly found in Britain. Milds and Bitters, IPAs, Stouts, Porters, Saisons (!?) and the odd lager. These come with style notes, common ingredients, commercial examples with tasting notes and a series of tried and tested recipes for making your own classic example.

To finish, Brewing Britain indexes a whole flight of beer festivals, all year round, for you to impart your hard won knowledge/try out your new skills.

Oh, and I've got a beer in it!!

The book would suit anyone with an interest in beer: from kit and all-grain brewer to Beer Sommelier and Real Ale Twat*. And it is coming up to Christmas…

*Viz. That is, Viz, not viz.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Tiger Beer clone, all grain.

And a bit about mash pH lower down.

Most visits to this blog come from people searching for tiger beer clones. I’ve referenced it a couple of times, including one previous attempt at the beer, which worked really well. It was mooched from the Dave Line ‘Brew beers like those you buy’ book, with a change here or there (not necessarily because I know what I’m doing, or anything). The first attempt worked quite well, the second was infected, and for Ms Homebrew, the third attempt will be ready in the new year.

This is a 'lite' lager beer, of the kind found in Asia and thereabouts.

3kg Lager Malt (Pilsner malt)
500g flaked rice
300g Carapils or similar
200g Acid malt
Recommended, 200-500g of rice husks or oat husks, as the mash Will be slow to run off.

Mashed in for a rest around 55oc for 30 mins, followed by the main rest at 66oc for one hour, in 10 litres of soft water.

Hallertaur Helsbrucker (2.8%): 25g, 11 IBU
Dana (Super Styrian)    (10.8%): 7g, 11 IBU

Flavour, Hall. Hersb., 10g @ 15 mins with a dose of Irish Moss
Aroma, Tettnang (German), 10g @ 0 mins.

Cool and strain.

This should yield 20 - 22 litres at 1038, which can be fermented with Brewferm Lager yeast, though this time I'm using a sachet of Saflager 34/70 sprinkled into the wort. If you can ferment it at the proper temperatures, do so, otherwise do as you can. Warm is NOT your friend here, though.

A diacetyl rest (14oc about 3/4 of the way through fermentation) is advisable.

Tasting notes to follow.

Rice & Carapils:

It may seem counterintuitive to use rice flakes to lower the beer's body, and carapils to boost it, but what I'm trying to achieve is a beer with very little malt flavour, but some body. Using rice alone will reduce taste and body, but I can add some body back in with carapils (dextrin malts, etc), and as carapils is also tasteless in the beer, it won't affect the malt flavour balance. In addition, I will use relatively high carbonation to give the impression of body.

Mash pH:

Most lagers benefit from a little acid malt to help with mash ph, and in spite of having soft water piped into the house I do have to use it in all my brews to help the ph level. I’m quite happy to do this alongside Burton liquor treatments in my Bitters.

An alternative is to use an acid rest into your mash schedule. It’s at about 35oc (up to 40oc), and should last about 3 hours (or overnight). The acid rest allows the lactobacillus bacteria that are all over your barley malt to flourish for a short period of time, which tends to acidify the liquor. The bacteria don’t make it into the finished beer, though.

Acid malt, though, has already been through this step. Every 1% added to the grist decreases the mash pH (that is, acidifies) by 0.1; so if your tap water is fairly soft, like ours at pH 6.5, to get it at the perfect pH for efficient enzymatic activity which is below 5.5 I’ve added it at 7.5% of the grist (not recommended over 10%).

Acid malt is otherwise the same as your pale malt, so decrease the amount of pale malt used appropriately, which will keep your grist ratios in check. Weyermanns' acid malt is from two row barley, so will not add haze, like you might expect from 6row barley.

Tasting Notes:
The beer is ready, having been lagered at cellar temperature. Hardly lagering at all! After about 3 weeks in the bottle it's nearly perfectly carbonated. 

Aroma: Moderate Ethyl Hexanoate (apple-y), some floral hops, and a moderate grainy aroma.
Appearance: Straw, ever so slight haze, long lasting rocky white head, with a nice beading carbonation.
Flavour: Typically low for a light beer, can taste a little grainy, and a little apple-y. 
Mouthfeel: Nearly a very light body, with a brisk carbonation (though missing the carbonic bite), and some residual sweetness. Very light bitterness.
Overall Impressions: Some tiny modifications to the recipe and I need to pay more attention to ester production (temperature and pitching rates). Otherwise very good.

There is a little residual sweetness, it's medium-light bodied, with a medium high carbonation.

I continued to drink this beer over the course of another month, and the flavour improved dramatically in that time. The yeast cleared up the aetaldehyde (in both this and a Munich Helles I reused it in) and left a delicious and refreshing beer. This beer certainly needed the time to improve and all of a sudden I've gone and run out!

This beer won a silver medal at the National Homebrew Competition 2014, run by www.nationalhomebrewclub.com