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.