Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Pretzel disappointment

Well, after my utter failure of my first attempt at twisting pretzels, where I couldn't even get around to rolling out the dough properly because it was too soft, I had another go. I consulted the internet and found out I should have used a firmer dough, and discovered that it was better, but still not great.

My worktop is too smooth, so the dough slides and I found myself pushing the rolls of dough across it rather than rolling them out. Rolling them on a wooden board was much better, but the board wasn't wide enough for the long strands.

I need to think of something else. And I thought this would be the easy part.

Sunday, 6 December 2009


I brewed this months ago thinking it would be nice to have a strong ale around for Christmas time. Now it’s nearly Christmas time already and I opened a bottle to test it.

Sadly, due I think to my sloppy bottling practice, it’s quite badly oxidised. If you can ignore that, it’s alright. It’s quite syrupy but I deliberately hopped it quite highly to avoid it being sickly sweet. Lovely whisky aroma (or, if you dislike whisky, I guess you would say a harsh alcohol aroma) with floral, woody notes.

Can’t quite decide whether it’s good enough to offer to my friends. I poured most of the bottle into the roasting tin for the roast pork I’m cooking.

Monday, 23 November 2009

Don't ...

... bake pizza in a steamy oven, ever. That is all.

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Pretzel fail

One of the things I have been meaning to get around to for some time is making some pretzels. Not the crunchy twiglet-type things you get in packets, but proper Bavarian-style, fresh, soft bread pretzels.

You can't buy them at bakeries here so the only thing to do is make my own.

I thought the hard part would be finding a source of food-grade caustic soda (the shaped pretzels are dipped in a weak solution of this before baking, which is what gives them their glossy brown skin).

But as I found out, the really difficult part is shaping them. Making an even sausage of dough is more difficult than it looks.

The professionals make it look so easy (thanks to for the video)!

I used my normal yeasted bread dough of about 65% hydration. Maybe I should try it with a firmer dough. In fact, I've just found a recipe for pretzel dough with just 50% hydration so I'll try that next.

Friday, 16 October 2009

Porter and hops bread (World Bread Day)

Bowl with flour, scattering of hops, yeast in a jar, beer in a glass
A recurring theme of this blog is the relationship between bread and beer. Both are among the oldest known cultivated foods and exist in our culture in a kind of symbiosis. We rely on fermentation to give us both products, and for most of history the brewery was close to the bakery ... and often the same enterprise. So my World Bread Day post has to also involve beer.

This is the beeriest bread I've made yet. It doesn't just contain beer as the liquid, it is also raised with beer yeast and has added malt and hops.

world bread day 2009 - yes we bake.(last day of submission october 17)I hope it's not too bitter. When I've used beer yeast in the past I could detect residual hop bitterness in the finished bread. That didn't bother me but some people might dislike it. This one actually has dried hops added to the dough too and I wonder if it'll retain any of the wonderful hop aroma, or just their bitterness.

The malt should give munchy bits, dietary fibre and possibly unwanted enzymatic activity that will devour the entire dough during the night, leaving only a puddle of sugar syrup.

If you brew, this is an easy bread to make, because you have the malt and hops, leftover yeast and spoiled beer handy. If you don't, it's probably more trouble than it's worth.

450g white flour
50g spelt flour
20g yeasty gunk from the bottom of the fermenting bucket
13g salt
20g crushed pale malt
2g crushed hops (I used Boadicea)
320g of some unsuccessful home-brewed porter beer

Straight dough, no faffing about. Bake it as you like it.

Baked bread with a slice cut off

The hops give the bread a distinctive, though not very pronounced, hoppy aroma, and also, as I thought it might, a bitter finish, which is quite nice once you get used to it. You probably need to like hops a lot though. The crumb is relatively heavy for a white-flour loaf, but soft and moist; the crust is soft and chewy.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Morrisons barley malt and hops bread

I bought a loaf at Morrison's tonight. I don't want you all thinking this blog is just an elaborate hoax and that I actually eat Sunblest and Warburtons all the time. I generally only buy bread in supermarkets as a stop-gap, but I could not pass this by:

Picture of a loaf of Morrisons Barley Malt and Hops bread, price 99p

I had to buy it just to see what it was like.

The crust is kind of Shreddies-like in aroma which makes sense I suppose, although it's not nearly as malty as those. Eating it is kind of like if the malty bits in granary bread were the whole loaf. The texture is as cotton-wool fluffy as most supermarket bread, in fact I think it's slightly fluffier.

A very slight hop bitterness is discernible and also the odd faint aroma of green chillies, heaven knows where that comes from.

And there are small bits of actual malt the size of couscous grains scattered through the dough. These are the best bits.

As soon as you put some butter or ham on it, though, you'd never notice the difference between this and any other fluffy supermarket bread.

I wonder who at Morrisons thought this would sell? ... and how many meetings he or she had to sit through, explaining what hops are.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

World Bread Day

world bread day 2009 - yes we bake.(last day of sumbission october 17)

World Bread Day is this Friday, the 16th. What shall I bake??

Friday, 9 October 2009

The Mango Chutney Nano-Brewery (part 2 of 657)

Here in the UK the latest fad among homebrewers is the mango chutney boiler. It is, essentially, a large food grade plastic drum of the type that Indian restaurants have chutney or pickle delivered in, fitted with one or more electric elements and a tap.

I finally got around to fitting the element to mine. I used a hole saw attachment to a cordless drill to make a 38mm hole in the wall of the drum. I then unscrewed the element from a cheap kettle and threw the kettle away. The rubber gasket and the element from the kettle can then be mounted in the 38mm hole.

A post on attaching the tap and hop-stopper will follow.

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Random bakery pictures

A closed bakery is a sad sight.

These are in Lochwinnoch.

Monday, 5 October 2009

Barm bread a la Dan Lepard

In my continuing attempts to discover what proper Parisian barm is like, I baked Dan Lepard's barm bread from his book The Handmade Loaf. His short-cut barm (intended for people who don't have malt and hops lying around the kitchen ) involves gelatinizing some flour with hot beer, then inoculating that (once cool) with a leaven or yeast culture.

Things I learned:

1. Measure the hot beer and flour separately, then combine them swiftly with a whisk. If you try to pour beer onto the flour while keeping an eye on the scales, tenacious clumps will develop that are near impossible to remove again.

2. The barm didn't appear to be fermenting when I looked at it next morning. This is nothing to worry about.

The barm is stiff on mixing, as the flour cooks, then it liquidises on cooling.

My only quibble with the recipe is that Dan tells you to use a bottle-conditioned ale for it. This is a massive red herring because it makes people assume that the live yeast in the beer has something to do with making the bread rise. But it doesn't, as the yeast dies at about 40ºC, long before it reaches the 70ºC where you're supposed to stir it into the flour.

You use bottle-conditioned ale for the same reasons you use stone-ground organic flour. If you don't understand these reasons, the recipe will still work.

I made this as a control experiment, to see whether my Parisian barm from scratch tastes any different. It does, however, make fine bread anyway.

It tastes great. I used 3% salt rather than the usual 2%, and you can taste the difference. The crumb is cream-coloured, firm and spongy. The crust is crunchy and ever so slightly burnt. It reminds me of the Scottish plain loaves my mum used to feed me when I was a kid, but much nicer. As Scottish bakers were the last in Britain to cease using barms, this kind of makes sense. I now need to find out how they get that odd gelatinized texture nowadays.

Bizarrely, it tastes more of beer that when I've used beer as the liquid in a straight dough.

Sunday, 4 October 2009


This is loaf of mostly white flour, with a bit of spelt and rye, and caraway, linseed and pumpkin seeds to add interest.

People always say that you should put a bowl of water in your oven when baking bread to maximise "oven spring". The theory is that the steam keeps the crust soft as long as possible while the dough is expanding due to the sudden heat, so you get the maximum volume of loaf without it splitting round the sides.

I've tried this before and it didn't seem to make much difference. Moreover, the bowl of water always got in the way when I was trying to put the dough in the oven.

But the other day I was reading about traditional pizza ovens (as you do) and found that traditional Italian ovens apparently have small holes in them. People would stuff wet rags into the holes to create steam.

It sounded mental enough to work, so I tried it. I got an old bit of cloth, soaked it and laid it in the oven just underneath the baking tray with the dough on it. And it worked – the slashes opened up nicely.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

More on bakers and brewers' barm

I still haven't figured out why bakers stopped using beer yeast from the local brewery in the early nineteenth century, though I have a few ideas. I now think my porter beer/black malt theory is a load of rubbish, and have an alternative to put forward. It could easily be just as wrong, but might be interesting.

Dan Lepard says on this thread on his forum "Wheat prices were high during 1790 - 1810". Due to the rise in malt taxes in this period it also became more expensive to brew. In addition, industrial common brewers were fast displacing the production of beer in private homes and on the premises in pubs, as you could buy it cheaper from the common brewer than you could make it yourself.

So we have a double whammy: there were far fewer people producing ale-barm and the cost of producing it had increased too. With higher prices and decreased availability of ale-barm it looks like bakers were squeezed all round, not just by wheat prices.

I assume that a typical bakery around 1800 would be a very small operation with maybe a master and apprentice and one shop. Possibly they had even counted among those who had recently given up brewing themselves and no longer had their own supply of free yeast.

I am fascinated by the relationships between brewers and bakers. I can't help but think there must be something deeper behind such a significant change in practice.

Beer historian Ron Pattinson says here:

This period saw a key change in British brewing practices. Though brewers had already been aware of the better yield of pale malt compared to brown, it was only with the introduction of the hydrometer that this could be quantified. It became apparent that, despite the lower price of brown malt, it was still cheaper to brew from pale malt. Brown malt produced only about two thirds as much fermentable material as pale.

But I can't for the life of me think what possible adverse effect moving to mostly pale malt would have on the yeast.

Monday, 21 September 2009

My bread is retarded

A bad habit of mine in the past has been over-proving my bread dough. The result was generally that I had a wobbly dough which would start spreading as soon as I took it out of the proving basket, and gave me round, flat loaves. They still tasted good though.

Depending on how much time I have, I now usually retard the dough overnight in the fridge, letting it rise very, very slowly at a cold temperature. An advantage of this is that cold dough is easier to slash, for some reason that I don't yet understand. I baked a loaf this morning from just such dough (mostly white with a bit of spelt and rye) and the slashes opened up beautifully.

There's no photo because I have mislaid my camera and I will have eaten all the bread by the time I find it, so you'll just have to imagine it, or just trust me that it looks great.

Thursday, 3 September 2009


I have been brewing recently, just not as much as I'd hoped. I still need to get my electric boiler and coolbox mashtun built and ask my local breweries if they'll flog me some malt.

Mild. Mashed warm at 70ºC. Mostly pale malt with some chocolate malt and 10% Coco Pops.
Hopped with Challenger and Bramling Cross and fermented with White Shield yeast.

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Sourdough pizza

I've been making a lot of pizza recently. I'd kind of got out of the habit. I used to make it regularly, but when I moved to my current abode with its weedy electric oven, I found my old method produced heavy, doughy focaccia instead.

Now I've started rolling out the dough thinner, and since my visit to Franco Manca in Brixton I've experimented with a sourdough base. I never thought it would make such a difference, but it does. I used this recipe from a sourdough guru (though he insists "All this praise is jolly nice of course so long as it is appreciated that the original yeasted recipe is Carol Field's. All I did was convert it to sourdough a long time back.") for the dough and the pizza tastes so much better.

I didn't have a written recipe before; it was more: half fill a bowl with flour, bit of salt, glug of olive oil, yeast, glug of lager, enough water to make a dough. And it worked.

I always enjoyed making the yeast dough because it was ready so quickly. Yet after having tasted a naturally leavened dough with a 20 hour fermentation, I don't want to go back. Of course my oven doesn't go up to 500ºC like a proper pizza oven, but it's still nicer than a yeast dough.

I've also learnt not to leave the dough out at room temperature. The gluten will degrade within a day im summer; you can really feel the difference by the second day when it has already lost its strength and you have to add more flour just to stop it falling apart. It's really weird the way it feels almost liquid-like rather than stretchy and pliable.

The person who taught me to make pizza said old dough was better than freshly made, and he was right, but that's only if it's kept in the fridge.

Saturday, 29 August 2009

Acetic bread

Note to self: don't make bread dough and then leave it in the fridge all week.

I remembered it this morning and bunged it in the oven. While it was baking, the kitchen smelled like a chip shop from the amount of acetic acid vapour the bread gave off.

Pity, because it has a fantastic crumb and lovely texture. It's just really sour.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Two bread breakfast

I should have posted this yesterday but didn't get around to it. This is the result of throwing two doughs together at 3am the other night. Wheat loaf with 25% and caraway yadda yadda, as above, and a smaller hazelnut and stout loaf using my XXXS beer instead of water. I've decided that after nine months the XXXS isn't ever going to be that good (it was only the second beer I brewed) and will now go into bread and marinades instead of down my neck. It makes pretty nice bread though.

Do I have time now to make another strong stout in time for drinking in the winter? Sure I do, it's only August.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Insomnia loaf

I couldn't sleep. This is weird for me because I can almost always sleep like a log.

My mind was racing with thinking about baking and brewing (shut up). Eventually I had to get out of bed and go and make some dough. Partly out of solidarity with Andy from the loaf who has to do it at three in the morning, and partly because I'll have no bread tomorrow if I don't.

25% rye, 75% white wheat flour, fennel, caraway and linseed, salt and natural leaven.

Thursday, 13 August 2009

This is spooky

This is a yeast starter. See the perfectly symmetrical blobs of foam? Is the yeast telling me something? Should I make Yorkshire bitter with this yeast?

Sunday, 9 August 2009


It's only since I've been homebrewing that I've really appreciated what a difference varying levels of carbonation can make to a beer. All my beer is bottle conditioned so the carbonation level depends on how much sugar I add at bottling. I rarely know exactly how much beer is in the bottling bucket and just add sugar by a mixture of experience and a calculation I did a long time ago (Both these practices are on the list of things to be fixed in my brewing process).

Flat beer is awful. It gives the beer a terrible acidity, and drinking it becomes a chore. On the other hand, too much carbonation is even worse. I realised that the reason I don't like some bottled Belgian beers isn't the beer itself, it's the fizziness. Hence I prefer to err on the side of under-carbonation, even if it means I have to dump the beer violently into the glass to get a bit of foam.

I'm drinking XX at the moment. It's got very low carbonation, just enough to form a head, the way I like it, though a tad more would be nice. Tremendous chocolate malt character, but light-bodied, not full like (what I think) a mild (should be like), with citrussy hops (Liberty). I tend to agree with those who say large amounts of US hops don't work well in dark beers. Also a bit of roastiness. Let's invent a ridiculous BeerTwat "style" for it. Oregon-style 60 Keller-Shilling?

Friday, 7 August 2009

The London Review of Bread

I was in London this week for the Great British Beer Festival, but man does not live by beer alone -- there's bread as well.

On Wednesday a friend took me to Franco Manca in Brixton Market. It is a splendid place. There's a clay oven in the back of the shop and about eight tables packed with people tucking in to the enormous pizzas that come from the oven. The pizza, made with a natural leaven, is soft, chewy and charred from the oven. The salads are even better than the pizza.

A couple of units down from there was Wild Caper where they also sell amazing looking bread (as well as boring stuff like olives and wine). They were nice enough to let me take pictures of their bread, even though we didn't buy any. I learned once I got home that the bread is also baked at Franco Manca; that's a hard working oven.

Borough Market, as everyone knows by now, is packed with food producers selling great stuff. At Flour Power's stall I bought a piece of rye levain bread (these things are the size of an LP record, or bigger, so they also sell half and quarter loaves). It's gorgeous, really rather sour indeed and with an underlying sweetness and chewy brown crust. It's the kind of bread you can just eat without anything on it. It seems almost a shame to hide it.

Another interesting loaf they sell is one which is just 400 grammes and is slashed so that you can cut it into seven slices. The story is that this slice was a day's bread ration during the Second World War. A sobering thought. I know that some people today don't eat much more than 400g of bread a week, but I don't think that Londoners in the Blitz had the option of filling up on crisps and frozen shepherd's pie instead.

Monday, 3 August 2009

Bread bread bread

I haven't baked for a week, and even resorted to buying bread at the weekend. I had a tasty, tangy baguette and a dull poppy seed roll clearly made from cake flour from different stalls at the market. Saturday night I relaxed and fed my sourdough, and by Sunday evening I had this:

Friday, 24 July 2009

Another attempt at hoppy, hoppy pale ale

I got hold of some Chinook hops – I'd wanted to try them for a good while – and used them in a nice bitter beer. They're 12% alpha acid, so well suited for the task.

Brew length 10 L

2 kg pale malt
10g crystal malt

25g Chinook 12.7% 90
25g Chinook 12.7% 0

Mash 67ºC, 1 hour

Yeast: US-05
Original gravity: 1050

I made a hop tea from the bittering hops before throwing them into the brew, and held it back to add to the fermenting bucket with the cooled wort. A full pint of hop tea is a pretty intense thing.

Update: 1st August this has reached 1.010, but hasn't cleared, so I'm going to dry hop it for another week.

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Bread again

It looks like my new, re-grown from scratch sourdough is ready to use. I think it's actually better than the old one. Here's the first loaf.

I have taken to making pretty much the same loaf over and over. This is 40% rye and 60% cheap supermarket bread flour, with a touch of caraway.

Also, I've noticed my bread is best when I bake it late at night after coming home from the pub. Don't ask me why.

Thursday, 16 July 2009

The Mango Chutney Nano-Brewery (part 1 of 657)

It's a blue plastic barrel, you say. With remnants of mango chutney sticking to it.

Well, yes. That's what it is now.

But it's going to be a brewery. Specifically, it's going to be a boiler. I am going to mount a kettle element and a tap in it and brew beer in it.

I cannot claim credit for this idea; that's due to various people on Jim's Homebrew Forum.

There are tons of these containers about. I got mine for free from a local Indian restaurant. It's perfectly suited for a plastic brewery—tough, sturdy food-grade plastic and strong handles.

Not only am I re-using a container that would otherwise be dumped, I brought it home on my bike. Stick that in your pipe and smoke it, "green", "organic" breweries! I bet your brewing vessels didn't arrive by bike, did they?

Now there are various bits of plumbing and things that I need to obtain to convert it into a boiler.

The first brew will—inevitably—be India Pale Ale.

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

My fridge is largely devoted to the cultivation of microorganisms, something most people try to prevent

Normal people have mineral water, yoghurt, lettuce, pimientos de padrón and cheese in their fridges.

I have jars of sourdough culture, bottles of beer yeast, proving dough and air-drying bacon.

I'm a freak.

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

New sourdough

I posted a few days ago that I'd killed my sourdough. It was proving impossible to keep it free of mould, so I reluctantly decided to throw it out (I'd had the same culture for about four years) and start anew.

The culture took off from nothing and was bubbling vigorously after only a day. I don't know whether the warm weather is more conducive to it or whether I just have a lot of yeasts floating about my flat as a result of various fermentation activities. I've noticed sample jars of beer wort spontaneously fermenting too, so I suspect both suppositions are true.

I may attempt to bake from this at the weekend and see if it's potent enough yet.

Mint Beer #2, and small beer

Back in March or thereabouts I made some mint beer. I was inspired to do it by some of the very hoppy new-wave real ale I've drunk in the past, in particular the IPA from the Verulanum Brewery in St Albans which had an almost menthol-like flavour. This brewery made very hoppy beers indeed and many a brewery would have been proud to have its ordinary bitter as their IPA, so you can imagine how bitter the IPA was.

For menthol flavours, why not use actual mint? I did a pilot brew and it was great. Now with summer here I made a larger batch for summer drinking. The method was pretty much the same: make pale ale and throw in a big bunch of fresh mint 5 minutes from the end of the boil.

I also added some mint humbugs in the kettle to see what would happen. I wonder if any flavour will remain from the mint oil in the sweets? It certainly smelt amazing during the boil, but I've learnt that that doesn't tell you much about how the beer will taste.

As a further recycling experiment, I kept the spent grain and made small beer from it. It'll be interesting to see how that turns out.

Friday, 3 July 2009

KK Sulphury Bitter

I'm fairly sure I'm in a minority on this among beer drinkers, but I do like a decent whack of sulphur in my beer. The legendarily hard water of Burton-on-Trent historically gave a sulphury character to the beer brewed by Bass, Allsop's, Ind Coope and Marston's among others. People say that this so-called "Burton snatch" is far less prominent in the likes of Marston's Pedigree than it used to be, but in the bottle it's still pleasantly noticeable (I haven't drunk it on draught recently). Can't say I can get it in Worthington White Shield though.

I've also detected sulphur in certain Franconian beers, though I shall have to look into which areas of Franconia (if any) have hard water.

There's a passage in one of Michael Jackson's books where he is tasting a Japanese microbrewery's beer and remarks that it's rather sulphury. The head brewer replies "Yes, that is intentional. We want the beer to smell as fresh as a bath-house." Which just goes to show that there's also an element of cultural context involved in whether you find it pleasant or not.

I wanted to make a souped-up beer inspired by the famous Burton bitters. For me these are about being about to taste the minerals in the water, about an intensely dry bitterness and a nice deep red colour, but not too dark (it's a pale ale after all). It's not really about hop aroma or full, malty body, although a bit of toffee is not bad.

So that means adding a stupid amount of gypsum to the brewing water, hops mostly for bittering, and crystal malt.

5L water heated with 1 tbsp gypsum

200g crystal malt
1800g pale malt

Mash at 68º for 180 minutes (they did long mashes in the 18th century … oh, all right, I went back to bed and fell asleep)

Sparge with 4L @ 80º and another 1 tbsp gypsum in the sparge water.

Boil for 90 minutes.

30g Challenger (5.1%) 90 minutes
10g Challenger 0 minutes

The wort doesn't taste sweet because of all the minerals and hops, but the OG is right at 1050.

It wouldn't be right without a Burton yeast, so I kidnapped the sediment from a bottle of Worthington White Shield and cultured it up. I was very impressed with how well the yeast recovered.

The temperature according to my thermometer is still under 23ºC, but I don't believe it. We shall see – the last couple of brews seemed to do quite well despite the heat in my flat.

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Peanut butter beer

So: I had this poll a few weeks ago, about which adjunct I should use in a forthcoming beer.
I'm not sure this was a good idea.
Marshmallows : 1 (16%)

Cornflakes: 0 (0%)

Coco Krispies: 0 (0%)

Peanut butter: 2 (33%)

Ready Brek (honey and cinnamon flavour): 2 (33%)

McCowan's Highland Toffee: 1 (16%)

Joint winners were as seen above, peanut butter, and honey and cinnamon Ready Brek. Peanut butter wins by default since Ready Brek doesn't actually come in that flavour (I was quite surprised to discover that).

It's definitely the weirdest option in the list. The others sound strange in association with beer but are basically just cereals and sugar when it comes down to it. Aw no, I could have used Turkish Delight as well.

All I did was make a bog standard pale ale and bung a jar of peanut butter in with the boil. It didn't dissolve as I was hoping, but instead disintegrated into lots of tiny greasy smears. Nonetheless, I cooled it and set it to ferment.

I finally bottled this the other day. As usual with experimental beers, fermented in a demijohn, it was an awful mess trying to syphon stuff out again, made more difficult by avoiding the thick layer of peanut oil that had collected on the surface of the beer.

It's not good. Lots of high alcohols in this, not unpleasant but not pleasant either. Not much peanut flavour either. I don't know if the taste is down to the peanut butter or the high temperature. It's been pretty warm here lately. My thermometer is only showing 23ºC air temperature but it feels like more than that. Fortunately, I don't have to drink it; Anders does.

Monday, 29 June 2009

I killed my sourdough

I think I killed my sourdough.

I'd been having trouble with mould appearing on the surface and it seemed like I was regularly having to scrape off the mould and grow the starter up from a salvaged tablespoonful.

I added a slug of 10% acetic acid vinegar thinking that would keep the mould at bay. And the lactic bacteria like it acidic, don't they?

It also kept the yeast at bay. Dough made from this starter is now showing no signs of growth. I am quite upset.

Monday, 22 June 2009

Porter, fish, rice and seaweed

At the farmers' market on Saturday, I came across a stall selling seaweed. It's the first time I'd seen it there and of course I had to go and have a chat.

I bought some sea lettuce and some kelp. The sea lettuce looks like, well, lettuce, while the kelp is large brown sheets resembling floppy celluloid.

I had a couple of mackerel fillets as well which I thought would go nicely with seaweed and rice. I chopped the seaweed (warning: fresh kelp is the slimiest substance in the universe) and sauteed it with onion, ginger and green bell pepper while I cooked some rice. When the seaweed was cooked, I removed it and briefly seared the mackerel just enough to cook it. I trust my fishmonger but I'm not sure he guarantees that things are fresh enough to eat raw. Then just a quick seasoning with soy sauce and vinegar and a dab of wasabi on the side.

I had a bottle of smoked oatmeal porter with this, because it's precisely the sort of combination I've wanted to try for ages. Did it work? Well, it worked with the seaweed and vinegared rice. I wouldn't go so far as to say it worked with the mackerel, but it stood up to it better than any other beer would. There was a slight metallic tang, but while that is usually disastrous for me, in this case it was quite pleasant. The seaweed and rice combination was much nicer, though. Against the acid of the vinegar the sweetness of the beer shone through, and in return brought the seaweed's marine, iodiney flavours to the fore.

Smokebeer update

I'm drinking a bottle of Smokebeer #2 now. I think it's still a little green. The smoked malt seems to need a fair bit longer to mature; it is really lager malt after all.

It's a bit thin. I might mash hotter next time, and use more dark malt.

Saturday, 23 May 2009


I had a lemon which was looking a bit tired and some tomatoes to use up, so I decided to have a light lunch with houmous (using the lemon juice) and salad. While rooting around for salad bits in the fridge I found one of the last bottles of my Mint Beer and it occurred to me to try that as an accompaniment. It was meant to be reminiscent of Moroccan mint tea, so I was hopeful it might work.

The mint character has faded quite a bit since I made this, leaving just menthol spiciness that you might not recognise as mint if you didn't know. It almost merges with the hops and you might well think it was some weird new hop variety.

The beer itself really brings out the bitterness of the salad leaves, and the menthol cools the heat of the garlic and chilli in the houmous. Lovely.

Dreaming of 19th century breweries

I dreamt last night I was having an argument with someone about whether Truman's brewery was in Manchester (it was actually in Burton-on-Trent). What does it mean?

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Smokebeer #2, and new poll

The last poll I had asked what kind of beer I should brew next. The winner was Smokebeer with one vote. Good luck that I just bought a bag of smoked malt at the weekend and I brewed this last night. It's nice to know that I can get a full-mash brew done on a school night – one of the advantages of doing small batches.

Brewlength about 9L

1.9 kg Rauchmalz
40g black malt (for colour only)
25g Northern Brewer 12%

The original gravity turned out at 1052 and I used Safale S-04 yeast. There seems to be an awful lot of trub, which happened the last time I used smoked malt too. I think I may have over-hopped it slightly, but we shall see. I've noticed in the past that the smoked character doesn't really appear until the beer is finished.

So I also have a new poll, which already has twice as many votes as the last one, and there are still five days to go! Please vote for which mad additive I should put in a beer. Remember, you don't have to drink it.

Sunday, 10 May 2009

Barm and Porter musings

I have been pondering why bakers, apparently around 1800, stopped just using yeast from the brewery and switched to barms.

Everything I have read on the subject of barms suggests that hop bitterness was considered a necessary evil by bakers at the time. They didn't like it, but the hops were needed to stop the barm spoiling.

I had in my mind that there must have been some significant change in the way beer was brewed that forced bakers to switch.

I don't know whether there was a sudden shift to using more hops around that time, which would have increased the bitterness.

The only other idea is that at that time porter was the dominant brewing style, in London at least. Porter had already been popular for decades prior to 1800, but it was made with brown malt. The much more highly roasted black patent malt was invented in 1817, and the porter brewed using this might have given the yeast a burnt, toasty flavour that bakers didn't want in their bread.

Could there be something in this theory? I think it is most probably rubbish, but someone else may know something I don't.

Saturday, 9 May 2009

Odd pale beer

I woke up early this morning and since I'm recovering from a heavy cold and not planning to go anywhere, I thought I might as well get a brew on.

It's a simple recipe, all pale malt, as that's all I have left.

0.5kg Belgian pale
1.7kg Maris Otter

Mash at 67ºC
1/2 tsp gypsum in the mash.

Batch sparging at 72ºC
Forgot the gypsum.

Added another 1/2 tsp gypsum. Filled my brew pot, sparged too much so had to split over two pots. This eventually all boiled down enough that I could combine back into one pot.

20g Northern Brewer 90min
10g Styrian Goldings 90min
8g Styrian Goldings 0min
8g Styrian Goldings -10min

OG was 1062, but I think this might be a bit off as there's a fair bit of crud in the sample glass.

I don't know how to classify this. If I'd used C-hops it would be run of the mill american pale ale, but I used Styrians and Northern Brewer.

It's pretty odd brewing when you have no sense of smell. I hope it turns out all right.

Thursday, 30 April 2009

War bread

The economic crisis hasn't got so bad yet that I have to make bread out of whatever is available like people do during wars and famines. However this bread does involve a bit of recycling of stuff that would otherwise get thrown away.

150g cold porridge
Handful of spent grain from Sunday's brew
Left-over sweet wort ditto
Enough chapati flour and strong white flour to make a soft dough.

I've heard of old-bread soakers and the odd handful of cooked rice making their way into bread, but recycling left-over breakfast porridge into bread somehow makes me feel filthy, like those people who fry everything in the same ancient bacon grease kept permanently in the pan. I try to put such thoughts out of my mind, but at the same time I'm not philosophically keen on my bread becoming a sort of bin for using up old stuff.

The bread is quite nice though. Chewy crust, nice oaty flavour. Here it is pictured with some of Iain's fantastic fennel salami from Gusto & Relish.

It's flat as a pancake because the dough is so soft, but that doesn't bother me too much.

Sunday, 26 April 2009

Brown Beer #2

This is the first beer I've made for quite a while – I think it's been almost two months. I've been paralysed by trying to decided whether to get an electric boiler or keep on with the small stovetop batches. But my stocks are running low, so it's about time to get some more on.

510g Maris Otter low colour
2kg Belgian pale
100g chocolate malt

Mash at 65°C 60 min
Mash started 1345
Boil 1610
Finish boil 1738

40g Bramling Cross 90
10g First Gold 90
6g Styrian Goldings 5
8g Styrian Goldings 0

Hop tea made from 10g First Gold

Yeast: Muntons Gold

OG was 1050.

I just realised I forgot to add any minerals whatsoever to the water. Oops.

Friday, 24 April 2009

Blackfriars in the 1990s

Bit of history here. Here’s a report from BBC Scotland news about Williams Bros (before they were called that). It must be from the early 90s as it has the news of Heather Ale being revived. Almost as interesting is the footage of Blackfriars bar in Glasgow still selling Tetley Bitter and Arrol’s 80/–, a clear sign that it was one of Alloa's tied houses. Even though the breweries have got out of running pubs these days, most pubs in Glasgow are still easily identifiable as having been one of McEwan's, Tennents or Alloa in the past.

Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Back to sourdough

I think my infatuation with beer yeast for bread is coming to an end. It is tremendous fun when freshly harvested and full of life, but goes dormant quickly in the fridge so you never quite know how much of a rise it will give the bread. Sourdough starter is a good bit more predictable. Back to sourdough, back to rye. I've missed them.

Thursday, 19 March 2009

APA first tasting

My second attempt at a hoppy Oregon-style pale ale isn't too convincing yet, although it's still very young. It tastes very thick and sweet and is lacking in the hop aroma. I think I might still be mashing too hot, even though my thermometer told me it was 66ºC. I will try to mash a couple of degrees cooler next time, stir the mash more to be sure the thermometer is giving me an accurate figure, and may resort to using a hop tea for aroma.

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

19th century Parisian barm part I

Dan Lepard's fantastic book The Handmade Loaf includes a recipe for barm bread.

Barms in the sense in which Dan uses the word are a particular development in the evolution of bakers' leavening agents. Historically they come after the use of beer yeast obtained from a brewery, and were in turn superseded by the use of compressed yeast.

The book mentions historical barms being made of malt and hops, but does not go into detail. His simplified recipe for modern readers who don't have malt and hops lying around involves heating up a bottle of real ale and stirring flour into it. This has caused a little confusion, as people assume that the yeast sediment in the bottle has something to do with the leavening of the dough. Actually, the use of a bottle-conditioned beer is something of a red herring.

I do have malt and hops lying around, so decided to try doing the whole thing from scratch. The procedure is similar to making wort for beer up until the wort is drained off the grain. Since the use of barm survived longest in Scotland when bakers in England had moved on to using compressed yeast, I also felt a duty to look into local history.

A small ad in the Scotsman:

BAKER (Foreman) Wanted immediately, competent, to take entire Management and work Parisian Barm. Good wages. Jas. Murdoch, Bonnyrigg.

With the help of some old baking textbooks found online, this one for example, we discover that barm was not universally held in high esteem at the time:

Bread prepared by the aid of barms is generally of poor volume and colour, rather liable to be holey, with dull bloom and texture somewhat variable, but the flavour as a rule is good.

Monica Spiller is someone who has written about barms. However, her method uses malt flour and hot water, so again is not done from scratch.

She has a detailed document with various interesting recipes. Interestingly, it includes a section on sprouting and drying wheat grains. This is, of course, effectively malting them, but for whatever reason she doesn't use the term.

An old domestic science book, Hand-Book Of Household Science by Juniata L. Shepperd suggests:

Yeast which is made with hops is able to overcome the power of foreign ferments longer than that made without hops, because the bitter of the hops is not suited to bacterial growth, but since one can use but little of a yeast made with hops without injuring the flavor of the bread, and a weak yeast acts so slowly as to cause disastrous results, it is better to make yeast oftener without hops, and use plenty of it in bread making.

It is clear from the rest of this document that the author is of the school of thought that considered acidity in bread a defect, but that is by the way:

There is another variety of patent yeast known as "flour barm." This is extensively used in Scotland. The chief peculiarity of bread from this is its decidedly acid taste, thought to be due principally to lactic acid. Much salt is used in making this bread, and it has not the flavor of what, in some other countries, is called the best bread.

William Jago’s classic The technology of bread-making, including the chemistry and analytical and practical testing of wheat flour, and other materials employed in bread-making and confectionery (1911) gives three variations; a compound barm (malt and hops), a virgin barm (spontaneous fermentation, flour and water only), and Parisian barm (malt and flour).

The source is given as a Mr Meikle who was apparently a bakery writer familiar with the Scottish baking trade. Meikle's descriptions are interesting because they show an evolution of practice beginning with, and developing away from, beer-brewing techniques. The first barm mentioned, compound barm, is essentially unboiled wort, made with malt, hops and water, then inoculated with an existing culture (this is the "Store" referred to in the recipe below).

Virgin barm, containing water and flour only, differs from a sourdough starter in that it's made with boiling water. Strictly speaking virgin barm should be allowed to ferment spontaneously, but even in 1911 Meikle was saying he had never actually seen this practice; bakers would add "store". Parisian barm includes malt again, together with scalded flour, but no hops.

Meikle's Parisian recipe:

15 lbs. Water
3 3/4 lbs. Malt } mash at 160º F.

22 lbs. Flour.
35 lbs. Water at 212º F.
10 lbs. Store.
To lie 12 hours before storing or until it reaches 76º F. ; ready 50
hours afterwards.

The Bread and Biscuit Baker's & Sugar-Boiler's Assistant by Robt. Wells gives a Parisian barm recipe using hops, but it is unfortunately too vague for me to convert the recipe, unless anyone can tell me how much "as much flour as can be nicely stirred in with the barm-stick" is. The basic idea is 1 part malt to 5 parts water for the mash, then add three times as much boiling hop tea.

Why does Wells include hops in Parisian barm and Jago not? I don't know, but I don't see any reason to conclude that one is more "correct." The Meikle-Jago categorisation is pleasingly tidy, but that is not enough in itself to settle the matter.

As mentioned by Shepperd above, one of the reasons to move away from beer yeast in the first place was because the hops made it bitter (it would be fascinating to look into whether this coincides with a shift to using more hops in beer-brewing, thus creating a problem where there had been none before).

On the other hand, barm without hops didn't keep as well. Possibly some bakers just continued using hops and others didn't. It certainly shows that disputes over what is or isn't a poolish, a sourdough, a barm etc. predate internet bread-geek forums.

In part II I will compare a couple of old recipes, convert them to modern units and post the recipe I'm going to use. Part III will involve using the barm to make bread using the quarter-sponge method which was apparently the contemporary method most used.

Last bottle of KK

I drank the last bottle of KK the other night. This was brewed at the end of November so it's had three months maturation in the bottle. It was pretty harsh tasting back then as I used about four times the recommended amount of gypsum in it trying to achieve that nice sulphurous Burton taste. Now it's smoothed down quite a bit and is pleasantly bitter. As it's now all gone, I need to make some more. I will use a tad less gypsum, but not ver much.

Saturday, 14 March 2009

Smokebeer tasting

My Smokebeer was a bit of a disaster, as previously posted. I spilt some and as it was only a small experimental batch in the first place, I only got three bottles out of it. It also turned out that I'd primed the bottles with too much sugar, so the first one I opened foamed and gushed all over the place. That was pretty horrible, as I'm not too keen on highly carbonated beer anyway (I think this is my main problem with many Trappist beers). On tasting that bottle, it seemed very harsh.

I took the remaining bottles and loosened the crown caps carefully to let the excess CO2 out, ending up with a puddle of beer on the counter and bottles two-thirds full of beer when they'd finished foaming. I sealed the caps again and put them in the fridge, and when I opened one this morning it still had good carbonation despite releasing all that gas and having a night in the fridge.

What is it like? Well, it's pretty nice (if you like smoked beer). It's pretty yeasty, but I'm not too concerned about that in an experimental beer. It's also very pale; I imagined, thinking of the dark Bamberger Rauchbier, that a 100% smoked malt beer would be darker. Either they're using different smoked malt, or adding a few percent of Munich for colour. It has a fresh aroma which makes me think of the toilets at Schlenkerla! This is not as bad as it sounds. Possibly it's a tad on the bitter side, so I might ease off on the hops next time.

So, drinkable first effort, and it's not like I'm not going to brew smoked beer again, because I am. I'll have many attempts at it.

Thursday, 12 March 2009

Fermenty things I haven't done yet

I have never made real ginger beer with a ginger beer plant.

I would also like to try making soy sauce, although a brief look suggests the process of making soy sauce is incredibly disgusting.


I need to buy some more jars to keep various cultures of grey-beige goop in. Having not just one, but several sourdough and yeast cultures in your fridge doesn't make you that sad, does it?

Beer yeast bread

Simple recipe for this quick bread I made last night.

250g wholemeal wheat flour
250g strong white wheat flour
10g salt
15g yeast gunge (saved from the bottom of the APA fermenting bucket)
330g water (66% hydration)
Some caraway seeds

Mix all the ingredients together and let rest for 15 minutes. Stretch and fold to a smooth dough on an oiled board. Return to bowl and let sit for another 15 minutes. Stretch and fold again and shape, and set aside to rise.

Go to the pub for two hours and drink Harviestoun Bitter and Twisted. On returning, bake in a 200ºC oven for 20 minutes, then 150ºC for a further 25 minutes.

This is nice. Soft chewy crust, soft elastic crumb. It tastes quite salty although it only has the usual 2% salt.

The yeast is quite bitter on its own and has great gobs of hops in it. I'm not sure if I detect any bitterness in the finished bread; maybe I'm just used to it.

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Old baking textbooks

Normally I'd be the last person to suggest restricting oneself to online research, but I was surprised how many old baking textbooks are available online, thanks to, Google Books and

There's The Student's Technology of Breadmaking and Flour Confectionery (1966); an unfortunately re-typeset version of Bread and Biscuit Baker's & Sugar-Boiler's Assistant (circa 1890); and most impressively, William Jago’s classic The technology of bread-making, including the chemistry and analytical and practical testing of wheat flour, and other materials employed in bread-making and confectionery (1911).

These will come in very handy as I look into old doughmaking techniques.

Mint Beer and APA (A Pale Ale)

I've just bottled my APA and mint beer, and both are tasting quite promising. The mint beer is intensely minty, more so than I expected. The APA is not hoppy enough, and a bit on the sweet and heavy side. Perhaps I am mashing too hot.

And no mould! I shall add bleach to my cleaning routine every time in future.

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Tasting my first two all-grain brews

Unfortunately my Broken Scales Guesswork Ale developed a thin layer of mould on top. I went ahead and bottled it anyway and I seem to have added a goodly amount of sugar, as it's well carbonated after less than a week. It tastes strange, but not bad. It has sort of creamy, vanilla-y flavours and a little bit of hot alcohol, although that may be me projecting and associating the vanilla with whisky. It's very full in body, perhaps I was mashing too hot after all. Because I know it has Bramling Cross hops in it, which are notorious for blackcurrant aroma, I wonder if what I called vanilla is actually the hops.

Meanwhile, Pale Ale with Hops and Dimethyl Sulfide is calming down; it's drinkable if heavily chilled. I'm in two minds as to whether to drink it up and get rid of it, or push it to the back of the shelf and see if it gets any nicer.

Attempt #2 at US-style Pale Ale

This is what the DMS disaster was intended to have been, my second attempt at this style. This time, instead of lager malt I used low colour Maris Otter and I approximately doubled the amount of hops (First Gold and Cascades for bittering, more Cascade for finishing, of course). Rather than sparge and end up with too much wort, I just diluted the first runnings with water and kept the second for my experimental mint beer. I still ended up with a starting gravity of 1060, just what I was looking for.

Mashing went more smoothly that my first couple of attempts, I think because I actually bothered to calculate what temperature the hot water should be so that I get my target mash temperature without adding cold or boiling water.

I brewed this on Saturday and peeked in the fermenting bucket yesterday. The yeast head has formed and subsided again already! That S-04 yeast is mental fast. That's actually a bit of a pain as I was hoping to harvest some of the yeast.

I hope the mould that got at Brown Bitter Beer has been vanquished. I gave the bucket a good long soak in bleach before using it again.

Mint beer

I can't remember where I got the idea for this. I think I was drunk at the time, but since then I've been meaning to do an experimental mint beer.

Mint beer has been done before, but most commercial examples seem to be mint stouts. While Mint Imperial Stout (mint imperials + imperial stout, geddit?) is a catchy name, I thought mint might also be nice in a hoppy pale ale. I think of the menthol harmonising with the resiny, citrussy American hops.

I brewed up some left-over wort and malt extract with a few Cascades, boiled it for an hour or so, and added a handful of fresh mint, stalks and all, five minutes before the end of the boil together with the finishing hops (more Cascade). I am quite looking forward to tasting it. I imagine the fresh mint will make it more reminiscent of Moroccan mint tea than the Fry's Chocolate Cream aroma that using oil or sweeties in a stout might give.

Thursday, 26 February 2009

Yeast kidnapping #2: why not to do it

I found out why using your stash of homebrew as a yeast bank, as proposed below, is a bad idea. When you bottle some beer, most of the yeast should have settled at the bottom of the fermenting vessel, so what is in suspension is the least flocculant of it, and this yeast is what goes into the bottle. If you then drink that beer and culture the yeast up, you have a strain which is slightly less flocculant than what you had before, and you're effectively breeding the flocculancy out of the yeast.

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Yeast kidnapping

There's another of the occasional discussions about yeast culturing over at . I'm going to try culturing up the sediment from a bottle of homebrew. It should be as good as ever.

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Miscellaneous rambling

I just had a sandwich with the bread I posted about this morning. I need to acquire some pink salt so I can make my own ham to go with it. I'm still hungry though because I cycled to Partick and back, a 40 minute round trip (this is, however, quicker than any public transport would be ... and it's nice in the summer when I can leave my desk at half past five and be drinking beer in the Three Judges by ten to six. [Oh, despite the usual tired real-ale stereotypes journalists don't seem able to resist, that is about the best article about the Three Judges that Google knows about. The only other link I even considered posting was one of these review sites where one reviewer complains that you can't get a flirtini there, whatever that is, and the other spends three quarters of his review telling an anecdote about how he was knocked off his bike in Glasgow city centre.]). I went to the home brew shop for some pale malt. I seem to have got low colour Maris Otter and now I'm wondering whether I should make pale beer with it rather than waste it in porter as I was intending.

On the agenda for tonight is making some bread with the spent grain I have in the fridge. My sourdough gunge is feeling neglected.

Smokebeer and rustic bread

Two of my favourite beers in the whole world are the Rauchbier from the breweries Spezial and Schlenkerla in Bamberg. They have a lovely smokey-bacon aroma and taste, but this isn't a novelty; the underlying beer is a great lager in its own right. So when I got into homebrewing it was only a matter of time before I would attempt to make a beer from smoked malt too.

I did an experimental brew with 100% Rauchmalz. The shop only had 1kg available when I popped in, so it was a very small brew. People are always warning you not to use more than 10 or 20 % Rauchmalz, but Schlenkerla and Spezial use almost all Rauchmalz in their beer and I don't find it overpowering. I read that they also use a little Munich malt, which makes sense - the Bamberg beers are very dark.

Brewing didn't go too well, and I thought this was a complete write-off. When I filled it into the fermentation vessel I managed to pour about half of it all over the floor and what did make it in was so full of trub and hop gunk that it didn't look like it would ever settle. It has settled further but the layer of trub at the bottom is growing thicker day by day.

More importantly, when I was brewing with it I didn't detect the smokiness at all. I'd already decided that the Rauchmalz I can get here was rubbish and resolved not to buy any more.

I tried some of it today. The smoke has magically appeared. This is shaping up to be good beer. Pity I'll be lucky to get a litre of it.

The bread in front is mostly white flour with a little spelt, made with the yeast left over from my DMS disaster. I like this yeast better in bread than I do in beer. I am really loving baking with the beer yeast. I'm making some of the tastiest white bread I've ever done. I just slap it in the oven and it rises beautifully. I don't bother shaping or slashing it so it turns out an irregular squarish lump, but you can get away with that if you call it "rustic".

Monday, 16 February 2009

I'm not happy

I've broken my kitchen scales. The nice digital ones I treated myself to last year when I started getting serious about baking. I'm rather upset because it was my own fault, and also because while you can cook pretty well without scales, and bake reasonably well without scales if you have enough experience, trying to brew without scales is a pain indeed.

So this is what I did on Saturday. Broken Scales Guesswork Ale.

Two-thirds of a bag Belgian pale malt
A handful of crystal malt
Some First Gold hops at 70 minutes
Some Bramling Cross at 0 minutes

The little canister of Ritchies yeast I bought doesn't seem to do anything, so I panicked and threw in a sachet of Muntons Gold.

Tuesday, 10 February 2009


I worked as a professional pizza baker for a day and a half you know. I left because the boss wouldn't tell me how much, if anything, he was going to pay me, but I learned a lot.

Pizza is really easy. You need a bit of white bread dough, some cheese and some stuff to put on top, and beer to drink with it.

Make a dough with white bread flour, yeast, water and salt. You can add olive oil and beer if you like. You don't need much dough unless you want a really thick, bready pizza that will feed you for the next three days, or you can fit a pizza a metre square in your oven.

Old dough is the best. You can make good pizza with fresh dough, but dough a day old makes great pizza.

Roll it out. Depending on how flash you are, you can stretch it in your hands or spin it in the air too. Smear tomato paste thinly over the dough. I used to spend hours cooking a fine tomato sauce, but it's wasted effort. Tomato paste is much easier and better in a domestic oven because it has not much water in it, but lots of flavour. If you have a pizza oven that goes up to 350 C and will evaporate the water, you can use home-made or canned tomato sauce without the pizza going soggy. If you don't, then use paste.

Sprinkle oregano over the pizza-to-be.

Then add your toppings. Less is more people. Don't overburden your pizza with eighteen different kinds of crap.

Then add cheese. Then add more oregano and black pepper. Bake it as hot as your oven will go for as long as it takes. I left mine in a bit too long, but it was still delicious.

Got it? Old dough. Tomato paste. Oregano. Topping and cheese. More oregano. Bake it hot. Beer. Wahey!

Thursday, 5 February 2009

I was idly re-reading George Orwell's essay 'The Moon Under Water' and came across the reference to "those large biscuits with caraway seeds in them which only seem to exist in public-houses". I have no idea what these are. Were they common in pubs? Or in the contrary, so rare that a pub might be the only place where you might have a chance of finding them, if you were lucky? A London speciality, or something found throughout England? So many questions ...

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

DMS disaster

The other day I posted I didn't know as much about mashing as I thought I did. I know now that I know even less than I thought I knew when I wrote that. Here is the story of my first all-grain beer.

On the right is the notorious brew bag. It's held together with staples for now, because I couldn't be bothered sewing all round. I will do that later at some point.

The next picture is what 2.5kg of grain and some hot water looks like when you stir it about in a plastic bucket lined with net curtain.

Here's the recipe. I kept it very simple.

2.5kg lager malt
10g Cascade hops, 70 minutes
10g Northern Brewer hops, 70 minutes
30g Cascade hops, 10 minutes
Danstar Windsor yeast

I boiled on the stove and cooled in the kitchen sink as normal, except I had opened no tins of syrup.

This last picture is only of interest to homebrew geeks.

Three days after brewing, the beer is still very yeasty and opaque. I didn't know that lager malt has lots and lots of DMS precursors, so unfortunately it also has that vegetal aroma familar from second-rate German Hausbrauereien. I always assumed it was the hops or the funky smells given off by lager yeast that I encountered in their beer, but no, here is that peculiar smell back again. I hope it will die down with time.

Monday, 2 February 2009


I learned some things about mashing at the weekend.

1. I don't actually know the science of mashing that well
2. Grain has significant thermal mass -- I suppose that's why you get wheat pillows to warm beds and things lke that.

Because I didn't take the grain into account, my mash water wasn't hot enough and I had a few problems reaching the mash temperature I wanted; I was stuck in the low 60s and adding boiling water a litre at a time didn't seem to raise it much. But I checked with some iodine, and it didn't turn black, so I can only assume I did get conversion.

This made me think of a couple of posts I read about how brewers worked before they started using thermometers in the 18th century: applied to lager decoction and in general . You get all sorts of methods for judging how hot the water is, such as "When it has cooled enough that the steam has cleared and you can see your reflection in the water". Obviously brewers hundreds of years ago wouldn't know precisely how hot the water is, nor did they understand the science of why the sweet malt gave off a sugary liquid when mixed with hot water. But they still managed to make beer. But did it always work?

Well, there is still an expression in modern German: "Da sind Hopfen und Malz verloren". which means the situation is hopeless, and literally it means the hops and malt are lost, and that's a good description of what happens if you mash too hot. If that happens you destroy the enzymes which convert starch into sugar, and you're left with a starchy malt soup which will never become beer whatever you do. A lost cause, in other words.

I suspect that before the widespread use of the thermometer, this must have happened fairly often.

Thursday, 29 January 2009

Crusty beer bread

This rose all night, so is probably over-proved. The scent of baking bread in the morning is wonderful, though. I'm hungry because I didn't have time to taste it before rushing off to work.

200g wholemeal wheat flour
200g wholemeal spelt flour
200g white wheat flour
12g salt
12g caraway seed
400g Brown Beer
2 tbsp yeast gunge harvested from the bottom of the Brown Beer fermenting bucket

Bake at 200°C for 25 minutes, turning down to 150 for a further 20 minutes.

Sunday, 25 January 2009


I have a sore back, so no brewing this weekend. I am sad because I can't wait to get an all-grain brew on.

This is the bread I made on Thursday. It's already all gone so I shall have to make another couple of loaves today. There's a tub of beer yeast in the fridge to be used.

Thursday, 22 January 2009

Brown Beer

Brown Beer is bottled ... yay!


The X Ale from Saturday before last was fermented out by Tuesday and bottled on Thursday, and is fizzy already. It's not especially nice though. That's what I get for copying Tartan Special.

Perhaps I should recycle some unsuccessful beer as malt vinegar. The thing is, I don't really use that much vinegar, except for sushi and I'm not sure how well that would work with malt vinegar. I suspect it would be ... unique.

It's just occurred to me that I also meant to acquire some chilli seeds and grow a chilli plant. Then I could pickle the home-grown chillies in my home-made malt vinegar made from beer that I brewed myself. Triple autarky!

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Pottering about on a school night

Busy stuff to do tonight. I'm making a batch of chilli and some bread dough. I have neglected my sourdough culture recently in favour of baking with left over beer yeast. I'm going to give it a good feed with rye flour and hope that gets it going again.

I also need to sort out somewhere to store the empty bottles between drinking and filling, so my flat doesn't permanently look like an alcoholic lives there.

Monday, 19 January 2009

Weekend stuff

I went for lunch with some friends to Gusto & Relish round the corner from my flat. We had very nice sandwiches, though someone commented that crisps in the salad garnish were a bit 1970s (crisps were used back then because radicchio hadn't reached Scotland yet). What sets G&R apart from other cafe-delis is that they make their own ham and sausages. I was particularly taken with the White Cart ham which has a remarkably unctuous quality.

Also nice is that they have a bring-your-own-bottle policy, so I nipped home and came back with some of my Pale Light Beer. I fear that the two litre bottle complied more with the letter of their corkage charge than with its spirit, but our waitress seemed too interested in what we were drinking to be bothered. It's lovely to be somewhere where people obviously care so much about what they are doing.

Sadly, such people are in short supply at the next place we went, the Clockwork Beer Company in Cathcart Road. It is a tragedy what has happened to this brewpub. On Robin Graham's watch years ago, it was a source of amazing beer and I have vivid memories of drinking the intensely bitter Red Alt Ale and the sulphury Original Lager. What is sold under the same names now has lost any character it once had, and what's worse, more than half of what we ordered was flat, sour or otherwise undrinkable. Red Alt was flat, Gosch merely dull and boring. A pint of Arran Fireside had a bizarre chemical taint, and on returning it was exchanged for Houston Peter's Well that was well on its way to being vinegar. We switched to the still impressive selection of German bottled beers, then we left.

To cheer ourselves up we then returned to Pollokshaws Road and the Allison Arms and proceeded to get battered on the comparably splendid selection of extremely recherché bottled Franconian lager there.

Thursday, 15 January 2009

Sour Ale Bread

I still have half a dozen bottles of Stale. It's pretty much undrinkable. However, it should be ok in this.

350 ml stale ale
11g salt
sprinkle caraway seeds
150g rye flour
200g white flour
150g wholemeal flour
2 tbsp sourdough starter

Update: no signs of life this morning. I hope the alcohol hasn't killed the sourdough beasties. They usually recover eventually though; I should give them a chance – after all, they've been in a cold fridge for a couple of weeks without much feeding or exercise, as most of my bread recently has been made with beer yeast instead.

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Brewing equipment at the fabric store

I'm quite excited about my visit to Remnant Kings yesterday. Remnant Kings is helping me move to all-grain brewing.

Up until now I've been using malt extract, which is fun and easy, but the extract is quite pricey. Malt is dirt cheap and by all accounts the difference between extract and all-grain beer is like night and day. So I've always had the intention of moving to all-grain, but the way most people do it needs a bit of investment. You need a mash tun and a boiler, both of which cost money and take up space. I brew in a tiny kitchen so the space is even more of an issue than the money.

Until the other day when I read about brewing in a bag – which is exactly what it sounds like. On the teabag principle, just have your grain in a bag in hot water, and that's your mash.

I now have two metres of polyester voile fabric and once I have sewn it up I'm ready to go. I can't wait.

Nice to know

I discovered today that if I really need to, I can cycle from work to the homebrew shop and back again in my lunch break ... which is handy.