Brendan Sewell brews in his Tullamore kitchen
THIS week I’m going to be doing something a little different for my beer column. If there’s one thing lockdown has shown me over the past number of weeks, it’s that more and more people in Ireland are taking up new hobbies and learning new skills to keep themselves busy while in isolation.
I myself have been trying to perfect the art of making homemade, light, crisp and fluffy-crust pizzas which is tricky without a traditional stone-baking, wood-fired oven!
Homebrewing is one of those perfect hobbies to pursue during lockdown, or indeed anytime, as it requires spare time and a good bit of patience but the reward at the end can be some of the highest quality beer, comparable with that of any of the commercially brewed examples you might find. In the recent past homebrewing has seen a huge resurgence among legal drinking age groups and the reason for that is the quality of brewing ingredients and equipment has grown exponentially over the past 20 years. I can still remember the infamous homebrew 'twang' that was a signature of many old beer brewing ingredient kits. I can assure you 100% that twang is totally avoidable and here’s how.
I brew at home on my kitchen counter-top (much to my wife’s dismay…oops) using the 'all-grain' method.
There are three methods of homebrewing, each with its own varying level of complexity: extract brewing from a kit, which is the simplest way to start out; partial mash with steeped speciality grains; and all-grain brewing from grain to glass. I find milling my own grain, sourced locally from the homebrew company in Mountmellick gives me full control over the entire brewing process and exactly mimics what breweries all over Ireland are doing, but on a scaled down version.
Today I’m brewing a simple English-style strong bitter I’ve put together using my recipe below -
• 4.5kg Pale malt
• 170g Crystal 10
• 50g Acidulated malt
• 25g East Kent Goldings Hops @60 mins
• 20g Fuggles Hops @60 mins
• 15g East Kent Goldings @15 mins
• 1 packet London ESB dried yeast (rehydrated)
• 33 litres of water (tap is fine)
You can buy your malt already milled but I’ve a mill and a drill that I use the day before to get set up. Also, if I’m using tap water instead of bottled water I measure it out overnight too and this allows any unwanted chlorine to simply evaporate away. I’m using a purpose built insulated mashtun to steep my grains in, with a water to malt ratio of 3/1 at 67oC for one hour.
This is how homebrewers convert the starches within the malted grains into fermentable sugars.
I like to think of homebrewing as essentially setting up a blind date between sugar and yeast. It’s my job to prepare both as best I can for the date and if the date goes well then I end up with great tasting beer. Simple!
After the grains are mashed for one hour I carefully drain off the sugary wort and transfer it to my brewing kettle which is essentially a bucket with a kettle element in it. When the beer begins to boil I set my timer for 60 minutes and add my first hop addition. Adding hops at the beginning of the brew creates bitterness through isomerisation of volatile hop oils.
As per the recipe times I add more hops to impart additional flavour and aroma. Aroma hops are usually added towards the end of the boil. This particular style of beer has less aroma but more yeast and malt character.
While the wort is boiling away I begin to clean and sanitise my fermentation bucket. I also use this time to rehydrate my dried brewer’s yeast in water at 25oC.
Remember my date analogy? Well, the yeast is the woman, if I don’t take care of it from this point on, the date won’t go well at all! Once the boil is done I use a copper coiled wort chiller to cool the unfermented wort using my garden hose extension to pass cold water through the coil until it’s chilled down to 20oC.
I can reuse this water for watering my plants or recirculate it so it’s not wasted. Now my wort (the man!) is ready and I send him to the restaurant (my fermentation bucket) using a gravity fed system to incorporate as much oxygen into the wort as possible. This also helps the date go well!
Before adding my yeast I use the drill with a mash paddle attached, in the wort, to oxygenate even more. All my equipment is carefully cleaned and sanitised at this point so nothing unwanted can get into the fermentation bucket and spoil the date. Now I add my yeast, pop a lid on with a Co2 bubbler-vent and let the yeast and the wort get to know each other (approximately two-three weeks).
The reason I use the date night analogy is to highlight the fact that the job of the brewer is not to make the beer but merely to prepare the wort and the yeast as best he can in order to start a really good fermentation (relationship). Over the past few years I’ve added a lot of extra pieces of equipment to facilitate this, including a temperature controlled fridge to precisely manage the fermentation process.
Using a hydrometer I can test the density of sugar in the wort both, before and after fermentation which gives me an accurate reading to measure the alcohol content of the beer.
When fermentation is complete I clean and sanitise my bottles and syphon the beer into them with an extra amount of sugar for the yeast to feed on. This creates a secondary fermentation process inside the bottle that creates trapped Co2 which in-turn carbonates the beer for me. Today’s brew finished at 1.056 which will end up giving me a 5.5% abv beer.
If you’re thinking of getting into brewing feel free to join the Midlands Beer Club on Facebook and ask as many questions as you like. Also, have a look at my own YouTube channel 'Views on Brews'.
Brendan Sewell is a Tullamore-based chef, award winning homebrewer, founder member of the Midlands Beer Club, Tullamore and Midland Tribune weekly craft beer reviewer and creator of the Views on Brews YouTube channel.