Ken writes:

I got a homebrew starter pack from Santa this year and on the 2nd of January I brewed my first batch. I’m using a brew kit from Woodforde’s Brewery in Norfolk. It is one of those where all you need to do is add water and yeast but so far the enterprise has not been wholly successful.

The 25 litre fermentation bucket that came with starter pack did not come with an airlock. But the book on brewing I’m consulting simply assumes that you will use an airlock and repeatedly cautions about the importance of keeping dust and bacteria out of your beer. So of course I fretted for ages about whether it is even possible to brew without an airlock. Turns out it’s fine. If the lid on the fermentation bucket is shut (but not completely sealed) the fermenting wort produces CO2 and the pressure of escaping CO2 keeps the particles of dust and bacteria and other nasties out of the mix. Hooray! Problem overcome.

One of my problems has been temperature. I placed the fermentation bucket in the understairs cupboard against the wall which has, on the other side of it, one of our horrid night-storage heaters. But you may remember that the first fortnight of the new year was really cold, and the ambient temperature in our house only reached 16’C at floor level (where the barrel was). This is a good bit less than the 18-20’C stipulated in the instructions. As a result, I left it fermenting for two weeks, rather than 6-8 days.

The next obstacle was that our water supply was cut off just at the point when I had decided to take the beer out of the fermentation bucket and put it in the pressure barrel to condition it. So the beer stayed right where it was.

Happily our water has been restored and on Saturday last I put it in the pressure barrel and then moved it to a warmer place, the hot press (as I may say now I live in Ireland. You foreigners can say ‘hot water cupboard’), which all advise against, but I figured if our house is so cool, perhaps only the hot press will be warm enough. In any case, it also wasn’t that warm and the barrel temperature gauge never looked like going over 18’C.

But alas, that wasn’t the last of the problems. The seal around the spigot on the pressure barrel is leaking and beer is seeping out. I discovered this today when I went to move it to the garden shed to complete the conditioning process where it is nice and cold. Probably no more than a cup has leached out since Saturday, but it’s a bit of a disappointment as it means the beer will not get carbonated.

Today I’ve ordered some bottles online and when they come I’ll transfer it to those to complete the conditioning process.

With all the problems I’ve had, I do still look forward to tasting the results in a couple of weeks time (only with some trepidation).


8 thoughts on “Beer!

  1. katimum

    Sorry you have had so many problems. Frankly (even Frank Victorly), I have never yet brewed according to the expected time scale – just waited until the fermentation has more or less ceased. Of course, as I use an air lock, I can tell when that has happened – the burping stops. I am rather surprised they did not supply one with the kit.

    On one memorable occasion I brewed a cask for Meri and Ben which had to be delivered on one particularly day by car to a re-enactment event they were attending. Despite being well past its ‘due date’ it definitely had not stopped fermenting. This accounts for the rather odd smell which your Rover sometimes has. Some of the beer was still in the cask when it arrived, but most was in the carpet.

    If you want to get some fizz back into the beer as it has gone too flat, try a teaspoon of sugar now and then.

    This foreigner says ‘airing cupboard’ instead of ‘hot press’.

    With regard to the spigot, has it been tightened enough? Usually these are screw in things but need to be quite firmly twisted to make the seal.

    I am impressed by your scientific approach. I admit, I usually have little idea of what the temperature of my cask was – probably only marginally above freezing, knowing N’s attitude to house warming up to now. Apparently, ale used to be brewed in smallish quanitities by ‘Ale wives’ – all guess and crossed fingers but with age and experience usually good – even the monks used to employ women to brew for them. When beer came in with the better keeping properties of hopped ale, it was brewed on a much larger scale by men and they seem to have necessarily introduced a much more structured approach. Looks like I have kept up the old traditions!

  2. kenanddot

    The bottles came today. I am going to transfer the beer tomorrow. I’ll add some sugar when I bottle them to carbonate the beer. (But I take your point that when using the keg as a keg, it’s a good idea to add sugar now and then to fizz it up).

    I’ll also have a good look at the spigot when the keg is empty. It is quite possible that all it needs is a little tightening, and I might just squirt a bit of glue in to the thread as well to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

    I don’t know if my approach is ‘scientific’. I’m just following a recipe. I’m definitely part of that housewife tradition (particularly since at the moment, Dot is the only one of us with a job and an income).

    1. I think the only way to handle any problems you might have is to visit a brewery and learn from the experts. By drinking as many pints as they will give you for free!

  3. kenanddot

    Update 12/02/10:

    The bottling was a lot of fun. But I was very foolish and forgot to put the bottles in a warm place again to carbonate so the first one I opened, after about a week, was as flat as a pancake. That was very disappointing. However, I transferred half the bottles to the airing cupboard and after another week, I tried one of those. It was warm, obviously, but quite fizzy. I’ve now moved those bottles back to the shed to get nice and cold again and put the other lot of bottles in the airing cupboard to carbonate. The now cold carbonated bottles are very enjoyable to drink, so I think the first batch has been a success (eventually)

    Also, I’ve brewed another batch. This time it is an IPA. I took to filling a hot water bottle and putting it next to the fermenter to keep the temperature up. I hope the mild fluctuations in temperature this caused won’t have spoiled anything. It is now in the pressure barrel and the spigot is working. It initially appeared to be leaking again, but I just kept ruthlessly tightening it and retightening it and I’m now satisfied that the barrel is air-tight (it has started to bulge out a bit, which indicates a pleasing build up of CO2 gas. I’ll move it out to the shed tonight, I think (this is the third day it’s been in the warm place).

  4. Steven Brewer

    Are you still brewing? I have a ‘home-made’ continuous fermenter and that led me to your blog. I have been ‘batch’ brewing for 3 years and wish I had started 30 years ago.

    1. ken

      I’m working in a brewery now, so yes, but not so much homebrewing. I’d love to see your continuous fermenter. Did you design it yourself?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s