Sunday, April 18, 2010

Basil pesto with bruschetta, about as easy as it gets.

Summer is only around the corner and the nice weather is making me crave fresh simple food again, salads and the like, or this summer favourite of mine, pasta with fresh pesto.
Pesto is very simple to make fresh basil, pine nuts, olive oil and parmesan. I don't use a recipe, but if you need one go by the below.

Basil Pesto for 4
A large handful of fresh basil leaves.
150g parmesan
100g pine nuts
2-3 Tbsp Good olive oil
Salt and pepper

There are a few ways to do pesto, I believe the authentic way is to hand chop it with a knife on a wooden board to make for different sizes of pieces and an inconsistency that Italian Grandmas consider essential, I've never done it this way, but I might try some day.
I generally use my mortar and pestle to mash the basil leaves up with some sea salt, then add the nuts then the parmesan grated, mash it all up together nicely then add a bit of oil just to make it a little more fluid and stop it clumping up. You can use a food processor at this point, but the results with a mortar and pestle are worth it.
Some people would mash in a clove of garlic too, I don't like it that way myself and prefer not to, it also doesn't keep as well with garlic in, I find.

This is great with most types of pasta but especially good with spaghetti or linguine. When you drain your pasta, keep back enough pasta water to make a bit of a sauce when you add the pasta and pesto back to the pot to mix, the water tends to season and also add a bit of needed liquid to the mix and helps the sauce coat everything.

I hate garlic bread, the stuff from the supermarkets that is badly made with soggy bread which is disgusting and tastes of lazy garlic. I love bruschetta, which is where garlic bread comes from. It's also really easy to make.
Take some of the par-baked demi-baguettes that you can get in most supermarket chains these days, or use a bread of your choice, white and crusty tends to be best, and bake as per instructions. Once baked and preferably cooled, slice it in half lengthways, take either side and grill them as if you were making toast.
Once toasted take a clove of garlic and using the crispy toast side, rub the garlic on the toast as if it was a grater. Once you've got enough garlic on, then put the bread down and drizzle some good olive oil over it and then season with sea salt and pepper.
You can do various things with this, but as is it's very nice, no need to mess with simple and good.

A quick word about salt, it's something I didn't take seriously up until recently when I discovered Maldon sea salt, now I hardly use anything else, the flavour is so soft and amazing. "But it's just salt right?", I hear you ask, I'd have said so too, give it a try.

One other quick tip, use quality pasta, I've recently started to buy DiCecco and man that stuff rocks, another one that's not quite as good is Barilla. Quality pasta is necessary when it's this simple.

Hummus and garlic dip.

So I decided to do hummus for tea yesterday, I didn't do the garlic dip so have no shots of it, but if you want a really nice snack or salad, try out the hummus.
It freezes well and scales up really well for a party, so you can make it in bulk.
It's also great with olives to dip in it, toast some pitta, chop some raw veg...lots of things you can dip in it and have with it.

2 cloves garlic
1 can Chickpeas
Juice of 1 lemon
2 tbsps Olive oil
6 tbsps Tahinii
Salt and pepper
Chopped Fresh parsley or Coriander for garnish.

Ok you need to open the peas and seperate the liquid and the peas and reserve the liquid for use. Put the peas and some of the reserved liquid with the lemon juice in a blender and blend until you have a consistency you like, this should be somewhere between whipped cream and cement ( it should not be runny but nice and chunky and thick. Once you have blended that then add most of the olive oil and the tahinii and blend further. Once all the ingredients have been blended together then you need to season with salt and pepper then stand in the fridge for at least an hour or two if not overnight to allow the flavours to mingle and to chill it. Garnish with Parsley and drizzle the rest of the olive oil over the top ( cos I think coriander tastes like fairy liquid ) Serve with pittas or French bread.

You can optionally blitz some chili powder, flakes or even fresh chilis into this and it's nice too. To keep well just cover it in a layer of olive oil and in a jar and it lasts for a few weeks in the fridge without freezing.

This garlic dip is a whopper, if you're doing anything sociable in the next two days after it, reconsider, it's only really good to have on a Friday, ensure that if the garlic has the green stalks in it that you do your best to remove them as they cause the worst problems with digestion. You can have it with more or less the same things as you'd dip into the hummus, very tasty stuff and both are vegan.

Garlic Dip
2 bulbs garlic
2 tbsps Lemon juice
1 small onion
Fresh parsley a handful
3 tbsps tahinii
6 Tbsps Olive oil

Roast the two bulbs of garlic at 180c for 8-10 minutes, remove from oven and allow to cool. Once the garlic has cooled then pop it out of its skins and chop it finely. Chop the small onion finely then add it to a medium shallow pan with the olive oil and the chopped garlic and fry until the onion is sweated down and soft. Remove the garlic and onion from the heat then add lemon juice, tahinii and a handful of Chopped fresh parsley and season with salt and pepper. Serve with pittas or french bread.

I got this really good Italian olive oil off of a friend quite cheaply, he imported a load of it at one point and then got ill so was unable to sell it as was his intention and got stuck with a load of it, and unfortunately it went past its best before, but it's still absolutely fantastic tasty single estate extra virgin organic olive oil. It actually comes from olive trees he planted himself years ago when he farmed in Italy, he's been back in Ireland a few years now, but the farm is still in the hands of acquaintances of his.
If anyone is interested I'm sure he'd be happy to get rid of some of it cheaply cos it's not going to last forever so let me know and I'll put you in contact with him or organise something for you myself.

Friday, April 16, 2010

If you wanna make a pizza get a stone.

Yesterday was my 39th birthday and I got a present that I had been eyeing up for some time but which always appeared to be just a nice to have whenever I stood in front of it in the shop, my wife bought me a pizza stone.
I'd heard this was the only way to do a good home cooked pizza and have always been disappointed by the bready base that home made usually has.
This thing is a revelation.

I decided to make two pizzas this evening, and still have two dough balls for more tomorrow if we want it. I asked my wife to make some dough in the bread machine at about three o clock so it would have time to prove.
She used a simple recipe that came with the bread machine that goes as follows.

Pizza Base
Water 1 cup
Melted butter 1 Tbsp
Sugar 2 Tbsp
Salt 1 Tsp
00 Flour 2 3/4 cups
Fast action yeast
Machine set to dough setting

This was left in the machine for a few hours after the mixing was done to prove, easy enough really, well especially easy as I didn't do it.

Sauce mix

Tomato Puree 3 Tbsp
Tomato Passata 1/2 cup
Extra virgin Olive oil 2 Tbsp
Dried pizza herb mix a large pinch
Salt and pepper to season

I combined all of this in a bowl with a whisk and then left it to stand a while to marry the flavours while I got the toppings ready.

I decided on a margherita and a bacon, mushroom and sweetcorn pizza.

Margherita pizza
Extra virgin olive oil
Torn fresh basil leaves
Salt and pepper
Dried pizza herb mix a pinch
Torn Mozzarella 3/4 ball
Cheap grated cheese 2 Tbsp
Fine Polenta
Tomato sauce

For the second pizza I used the following

Bacon, mushroom and sweetcorn pizza
Dry fried bacon slices chopped into strips 2
Sliced mushrooms 3
Half an onion chopped into rings
Tinned Sweetcorn 2 Tbsp
Garlic infused olive oil
Torn Mozzarella 1/4 ball
Cheap grated cheese 2 Tbsp
Finely chopped fresh basil
Salt and pepper to season
Fine Polenta
Tomato sauce

Preparing the pizza is easy enough, you start by rolling out the doughball. I split the dough into 4 and weighed them off evenly and then left the balls on a tray under a damp cloth to prove again. Sprinkle your rolling surface liberally with flour and if you can throw a pizza then work away, I used to be able to do it, but it's a long time so rolling with the pin was easier.
Once rolled let it sit to rest for a minute or two and then spread about a tablespoon or two of the sauce on the pizza base, use the back of a tablespoon or the bowl of a ladel to spread it about, you don't have to cover it thickly in fact it's better if it's a little patchy as the base will then bubble through in spots.
Arrange your toppings on this, starting with the cheese and the mozzarella then just build the rest of the toppings on this. I showed olives in the picture that I ended up not using but I'll do those maybe tomorrow as there were ingredients left over to do more.
The margherita gets a liberal sprinking of olive oil on top when it's done and into the oven.

The margherita on the left was the first one and it buckled up a little as I still have no peel and had to improvise using a baking tray that we have the has no edge on one side so it actually worked a treat, the trick to getting the pizza off the peel is to put a healthy sprinkling of polenta flour under the pizza, it rolls off it like on marbles when you slide it off then. The first one was also a guess with time and a very thin base so those factors combined to make the pizza a little darker than intended. By the time I did the second one I had it working fine and timed it better too. Both pizzas got 7 minutes in the oven and were done, you may get different mileage with a non fan oven and a thicker base or more ingredients, don't overload the ingredients that will make the base not cook properly and be slimy.
The stone is the key to this being so tasty, you can see from the photos that the pizza has a proper stone oven crust and man it was very very tasty.
It's easily the best pizza I've made at home, and it's down to the stone, so a big thanks to my lovely wife for getting it for me, although she was also thinking of nice pizza when she did it, but who can blame her.

I also had a nice pint of my best bitter. Consett is where my wife comes from.

I was going to do a post on dips for a party I was having tomorrow, but the wife and child got an eye infection so for the sake of guests not getting an infectious lurgy I called the party off. I think I'll still do a hummus this weekend a pop up a post about it.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Curry night.

Indian food is all about the correct use of spices, not everything has to be hot with chili, but everything is generally well spiced.
I have the spices I use most in my Masala Dabba (spice box).

In the box I have mustard seed, cumin, garam masala, onion seed, ginger powder, coriander seeds and turmeric.

I have lots more spices in a box under the counter, but these are my main ones and the ones I keep on my counter top.
I have always had a fascination in Indian food since as a kid in Saudi we had some really nice ones made for us by our Indian house boy of the time, a guy called Anthony. My 4 year old brother at the time used to taunt him to give him the hottest curries he could make, he still likes his food very spicy.
I was shopping one day in one of the Asian stores in the city centre when I saw an ad for Indian cookery lessons, so I decided to go. The instructor was a nice South African/Indian woman called Katayani. I did 5 or 6 lessons, I can't remember, each time she taught us something new. We started learning about how to make fresh paneer, and moved onto puri, roti and various vegetarian curries. I should mention that the cookery was all vegetarian and also based on Ayurvedic cookery, the lady is a Hindu so it was basically Hare Krishna food. I have to admit that while I have no problem with vegetarian food, the issue of not having onions or garlic in this style of cookery bothered me and I missed the flavours of them too much to stick with this in its pure style.
When she was teaching us she told us that to change it up for our taste, simply add garlic and onions and if we wanted just add meat. She gave me a very good grounding in cooking a good curry and a greater appreciation of vegetarian food. I'm afraid I can't be weaned off allums for any reason, so the garlic and onions stay. I believe the reason for leaving these out of the diet are simply to reduce wind when one is meditating, the buddhists avoid them for the same reason.
Another important element of this purely vegetarian diet is the asofetida powder, basically it's a gum from a tree that also helps reduce wind, don't overuse it, it's not called devils dung for no reason, a pinch is all you need in a veggie meal, it's foul sulphorous stuff.

This is the base for most Indian curries:

tsp black mustard seed
tsp cumin seed
tsp garam masala
2 tsp minced ginger
Fresh curry leaf (optional)
vegetable oil/mustard oil
green or red chilli to taste (I tend to use a lot )
1 small pinch asofetida (this is optional but very good for veggie curries as it reduces wind, be very careful, it stinks horribly and is very easy to over use)

(You can change any of the proportions of ingredients to suit your own tastes, if you like it more, or less, spicy.)

either a tin of tomatoes or a tin of coconut milk.

The above is the basis of Hare Krishna (brahmin) style Indian cookery which doesn't use garlic or onion, but I personally prefer to add them.

1 tsp Minced garlic
1 onion chopped

Indian cookery doesn't use stock, so any meat cooked should be on the bone, unless you poach chicken beforehand for example (if you precook meats, you really only reheat them through in the sauce, or they'll overcook).

Fry cumin and mustard seed in a tbsp of oil over a med/high heat until they start to spit and crackle, then add garam masala for 30 secs or so to toast a bit, then add ginger, curry leaf, chilli (and garlic and onion). Sweat onions down as normal (if you're using them), in the rest of the paste, until transparent. If you're using meat or veg add them at this point and brown as normal. Potatoes need to be fried in this paste, and browned gently, at this stage to keep them in cubes or they will go to pieces when boiled.
(the recipe thus far is the basis of pretty much all curries, you can make all sorts of variations yourself from this, such as adding dried fruits and nuts)

To this base you can add either the tin of tomatoes or coconut milk, or water just to make up some boiling broth. I find that fish goes very well with coconut milk (if using fish don't cook for long so as not to overcook the fish), tomato can go very well with the likes of neck of lamb and then cooked on a slow low heat.

That's more or less it, you can add anything really to this, to your own taste. Cooked potatoes, a tin of peas, chicken, fish, beef, lamb.

I did three curries yesterday evening as that's one of the things that I like about indian cookery, the thali which is a plate of mixed curries and rice or chapatis where you have small portions of a few different things.

I did up a Chicken curry with a tomato base, a vegetarian okra and potato curry and also a fish curry with coconut milk, the fish curry was only partially successful as I used some smoked coley we had there as one of the fish types as I needed to use it and the smokiness was not totally at home, but it wasn't bad at the same time.
To this I made simple boiled basmati rice, I'll do a post on making basmati as per an Indian housewives instruction at some point in the future too. Personally I've recently started to use a rice cooker and it makes things a lot easier.

One thing about my love of Indian cookery is that it actually doesn't extend to Coriander/Cilantro/Dhania leaves, I hate the stuff so I substitute it with Flat leaf parsley when I can get it and curley parsley when I can't.

I'll spend some time on chapatis to go with the curry the next time I do them and post how to do them, they're a nice addition to a plate of curries.
If anyone wants any specific recipes gimme a shout I can throw together an exact recipe for you from what I'd do myself. I could get more specific, but to be honest you need to experiment, but stay with the same base most of the time. I'll possibly do a post in the future with some actual recipes.

I'll shortly be posting about making a few dips that I'll be doing for a barbecue and meeting of homebrewers at the house here next weekend, I'll be doing some hummus and some garlic dip, both of which are pretty good and pretty easy.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

How to get the most out of a chicken.

I often hear people complain about the price of good chickens and the fact that they can't justify buying them. My solution to that is to get the best out of a chicken.
I find chicken can sometimes be too dry when taken off the bone and cooked, so what I do, is poach the chicken and then take it off the bone, I pick the carcass absolutely clean.
There are a few advantages to this, I get succulent poached chicken even though it's off the bone, and I get a nice stock and I use the whole chicken.

To poach the chicken I throw it into a pot with the trinity of stock veg, celery, carrot and onion, to this I add two black peppercorns and some bay. Don't add salt at this early stage as you will be reducing this liquor later and it might get overly salty.
I fill the pot almost to covering the chicken and then put it on to boil.
Don't let it boil for long, once it's boiled for about 5-10 minutes then take it off the heat and put the lid on and let it sit to continue to poach gently. I leave it for two hours at least. Once it's been standing for a couple of hours remove the chicken and put it on a plate to cool. You can start on it now if you have asbestos hands, but it's best to let it cool a while.

Proceed to first skin the chicken and then take the whole lot off the bone. Don't miss anything, even pick in around the neck and take all the meat you can get.
I tend to put this in a bowl and cover the top with cellophane and once it's cooled it goes in the fridge.
This is now ready for a number of things. If you've ever noticed how take aways have a nice succulent chicken that isn't dry and has lots of flavour, well this is more or less what they do. This chicken will go very nicely in a curry, stew, soup, sandwich, basically anything. The beauty of it is that it really only needs heating through so you can add it to any curry or pasta sauce once the sauce has been reduced.
It's very moist and tender, you'll never want to do chicken any other way and you use the whole bird.

There are still a carcass and skin to deal with, so what I do is to strain the poaching liquor and skim the oil off it and then set aside, then I add the skin and bones to a new pot with some new stock veg, carrot, celery and onion, fry this up for a little bit to brown the carcass and the veg, you want some caramelisation to occur to get the flavour in there. If I have a glass of white wine handy I deglaze with that before adding the rest of the poaching liquor back to the stock pot. I then boil this for an hour or so and skim off any dirty scum and bubbles that accumulate on top. Once done I strain it again and then skim the fat off the top, or use a gravy seperator to do this. I then reduce this at least by half as it's a large amount of stock and a little dilute, if you want you can reduce it right down to a tablespoon or two for an amazingly powerful jus.
That is basically all there is to it.

Next post I'll show where some of the chicken got used.

Disclaimer: I realise the photo showing the chicken and the veg on one chopping board is not good health and safety practise, but this was merely for a staged shot before the lot went into the pot together.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Trying a new type of cider.

I've seen a lot of praise for a cider type drink that they make over on Home Brew Talk that they've dubbed "Graff" in homage to a drink from a Stephen King novel.

It was first put forward as a better home approximation of commercial ciders. The criticism normally of a home cider made from supermarket apple juice is it's lack of body, it's sourness/tartness and the inability to make it sparkling and sweet due to the technical difficulties that this presents.

Basically the yeast eats all the sugar drying the drink out and making it more wine like than cider like. Suffice to say that the techniques employed by cider makers to get a sweet end product are not the easiest for a home brewer to replicate. If you are interested look up a technique called "Cuivage" as it's called by Breton cider makers, or the English call it "Keeving". The basic premise is that you lower nitrogen levels in the apple must and as a result the yeast cannot finish all the sugar as it needs nitrogen to feed.

Graff gets around this problem by being 20% beer and 80% cider, the malt you add leaves some residual sweetness as not all malt sugars are simple sugars that are fermentable so you end up with residual sweetness. There are also hops added to add body and balance the tartness, not a lot mind, and then you use steeping grains to add body and keep a bit of a head.

I've decided to give it a go and I'll try to get this lot sparkling.
The basic premise when carbonating, is that you ferment the liquor under pressure, i.e. in a capped bottle or keg. When yeast eats sugar there are two byproducts which interest us, Alcohol and C02, if there is a lid on then there is nowhere for the CO2 to vent and it dissolves back into solution producing fizz.
In any case, the recipe I used was.

20l Lidl pure apple juice (1.5l cartons)
5l Campden treated water
1kg Light Spraymalt
500g Crystal malt
100g Carapils
20g Cascade hops
500g Glucose
Pectolase to clear.
1 Pack Nottingham Ale Yeast

The method employed is pretty simple. Steep your grains in 5l of water adding the grains at 70c to steep at about 65c for half an hour, I do it in a muslin bag in the pot. I don't bother with sparging per se and just gently move the bag about to rinse the sugars out of the grist. Once that's been done, I add the spraymalt to the pot, dissolve the lot and then turn up the heat to get to a boil.

When you get it to the boil then skim off the hot break and discard. Add your hops and boil for half an hour. I then went ahead and ran the immersion chiller on it to cool it fast, you could freeze a sterilised 2l bottle of water and do the same.
Fast cooling is to ensure a good cold break.
Hot and cold break are proteins that cause hazes and that you don't want in your beers, basically it's like the scum you skim off the top of a stockpot of bones. It makes for a clearer broth and the same principal applies to beer.

Once this is all done, you pour your wort through a strainer into your fermenter. Top this up with apple juice to 25l

Then pitch your rehydrated yeast on it and away it goes.

I rigged up a blow-off tube on this because I think it will be pretty active and this fermenter does not have a lot of expansion room due to the narrow neck.

I've got to work out the correct ABV, a previous calculation was way off, I think I'll be around 8%

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Where should you begin?

I'd advise most people wanting to get started to get themselves into it with kit brewing. You can be set up to brew with about a 70 euro investment. The first kit you buy will continue to serve you if you keep it well even when you decide to advance to more complicated stuff, the base equipment is always essentially the same.
A Kit like this for example will start you off with a kit and the equipment you need to bottle (bar bottles) for only €51.99 and then you add a kilo of spraymalt so you're brewing a really nice beer for 60 euros and the next one all you do is buy a new kit and the rest of the equipment will be reused.

I personally found 3kg kits to be, in almost all cases, superior to one can kits. The Woodfordes range that I used is also easily available and reasonably priced if you consider you have to add nothing else to the kit apart from priming sugar.

So that's the stuff you need and the kits that I liked to use while I was doing kits, the next thing is a post from a while back from Irish Craft Brewer where I was asked to help with photos for their own knowledge base, so I did up a brew and documented the lot with the camera.

I hope this is informative and let me know if it's pitched too high. Remember you don't need the exact kit I use, I just find that kit makes jobs like this easier.

Regarding the price of a brew, once set up with equipment, you need only rebuy kits, the 3kg kits that I use work out about 20 euros for 40 pints, a one kilo kit with spraymalt addition will come to about the same give or take.
Considering that you can turn out REALLY good beer with a kit, it's well worth it.

Ok here we go, tonights brew session documented in Pictures, I can add a better commentary if you want, but here's the pics for now.

All the gear laid out ready to go.
I am illustrating spraymalt, but am not using it as these are 3kg all malt kits and need no extra additions. If you happen to have a 1 tin kit you would be well advised to use spraymalt or liquid malt extract to make up the necessary extra fermentables.
If you use table sugar as some kits advise you will probably be disappointed with the results.

Woodfordes kits, the beers I will be brewing tonight. What can I say, I love the stuff, it's top quality beer and so so easy to make.

The contents of an opened kit, in this case it is the Admirals Reserve kit which is the only one with a pack of hop powder to add, the rest contain only two tins and one silver pack of yeast.

Here's my sanitation* and water treatment stuff.
I fill my large yellow bucket with 40 litres of water, then 60ml of vinegar which I mix in and then I add 60ml of the thin bleach, this makes a solution which is suitable for sanitising of all equipment. You can scale this mixture as you wish.
* since this session I no longer use this mixture, and in any case the milton was a really bad idea, buy cheap thin bleach that has no surfactant.

My fermentation bins and bottling bin all scrubbed with a little washing up liquid in the bath.

Spraymalt which you would use if you were using a one tin kit. This would be boiled in a pot with campden treated water for a few minutes before being added to the tin of malt as you shall see later.

The thermometer and hydrometer which are optional for kit brewers, if you follow instructions and want to keep it simple you will come out more or less at what the manufacturer claims for an alcohol content.
I leave my fermenters 4-5** weeks in primary so don't always bother with these.
**Since this post I would advise 3-4 weeks, 5 is mostly too much, but will do no harm apart from possibly impart a bit of yeasty flavour which is sometimes unwanted.

This is a fermenter in the sanitisation bucket, everything that I use including the tin opener will be dropped in here when not in use.
Once the bucket is cleaned then I run a little water in from the tap and rinse it lightly, this solution is supposed to be no rinse so I don't go overboard with rinsing.

I add a half a campden tablet to every five gallons of water to get rid of the chlorine and chloramine in the tap water. Crush the tablets between two spoons, I don't bother sanitising these spoons as campden is pretty good as a steriliser itself.

Buckets of water with campden added which I will use to add to the malt.

I put two pots on the stove, one with hot water that I will use to wash out the tins of malt to get it all out, the other I will put the tins into while still closed to warm the malt so that it becomes more fluid and will pour better. If the tins are cold it'll be like treacle or worse and you'll have a hard time getting the malt out. I tend to dunk the ends of these in the cleaning bucket before opening with a sterilised tin opener.

When the malt is warm you can open the tin and pour it into the bucket, I then scrape the rest out with a sanitised spatula before adding boiling water to the tin and rinsing around to get the rest of the malt out, this also goes into the fermenter.
When I add them to the bucket and add the hot water then I tend to stir a bit with my paddle to thin the mix a bit before adding the rest of the cold water, otherwise you can get lumps of cold malt at the bottom of the bucket which take a while to stir in.
If you were using spraymalt you would add the boiled solution of spraymalt at this stage to make up the equivalent of the second tin of malt that these kits have.

When adding the campden treated water I am sure to splash it from a height lift the bucket high as you pour it, it'll produce a very foamy head, but more importantly it'll aerate the wort which is necessary for the yeast to reproduce in the early stage before they start to make alcohol and need no more air.
The bubbles also serve the purpose of allowing the yeast to get moist slowly and hydrate without being in a high concentration wort that can affect their early growth. Some people rehydrate their yeast in a container of water about an hour before using it, I haven't needed to so far***.
***Since this post I have started to rehydrate my yeast, it starts the ferment a lot faster when I do. Mix preboiled and cooled water in a glass with hot water to get to 30c then pitch your yeast packet on it and leave 15 minutes before pitching on your wort mixture.

When I have my buckets filled then I take a sample and read the temperature and the Original gravity, for this demo I did, but as mentioned earlier I don't always bother.
I then put on the lids and put in the bubblers, but I don't snap the lids on for the first week or so, after that I snap the lids down and allow the bubblers to do their thing.( It's handy to snap the lid down so a bucket will keep it's shape while carrying it to it's final brewing spot, then snap it off again.)
You don't need bubblers, a lot of people just use lids on the buckets which they don't snap down tight. I feel safer with them as I leave my beers for 4-5 weeks in primary and don't bother with a secondary before bottle or keg conditioning, but like I said, at the start the lids are not snapped down tight.

Ferment your beers as close to a constant 20c as you can, if you ferment too warm you get banana and clove like tastes in your beer, this is not desirable in most styles.

So there you go, hope that's helpful.

I'm not normally too popular with my wife when I do this but keeping a mop about helps with the inevitable swimming pool that develops on the floor.

Non brewing related post.

Sorry to bring this up in a brewing blog, but just think about the 15 year old who was stabbed to death here in Tyrrelstown yesterday evening. Happened more or less outside my door.

I'm not religious at all, quite the opposite, but in reverance,

RIP Toyosi.

Latest story is here.

Normal progamming will resume now.

My recent trip to the drinkstore in Stoneybatter.

I popped into the drinkstore Stoneybatter recently, I was wanting to try out a few new beers both for inspiration and to become familiar witht the commercial beers available.
I was impressed with some and totally unimpressed with others, as it turns out the one I was most impressed with was also the oldest style there.....

The beers pictured are as follows.
Sierra Nevada Pale Ale
Dogfish head 60 minute
Chapeau Gueuze
Chapeau Framboise
Boon Kriek
Belfast Black
SN Anniversary Ale
SN Porter
Belfast Lager
Mollys chocolate stout
Headless dog
Clotworthy Dobbin
Porterhouse Plain
Porterhouse Hophead
Timothy Tailor Landlord

I'll go through them one by one and give my opinion on them.

Sierra Nevada Pale Ale
Nice enough beer, lots of cascade US hops in this one.
Dogfish Head 60 minute
Not a bad beer, again lots of American hops. Not as much aroma hop as the SNPA
Chapeau Gueuze
Wow, what can I say about this one, fantastic. Very fruity, almost like a port wine. This was my favourite of the whole lot and it was a lambic.
Chapeau Framboise
This time a fruit lambic, not as nice as the gueuze, but not bad. Low alcohol @ 3.5%
Boon Kriek
This is another beautiful lambic, cherry flavour this time and a lot more sour than the Chapeau lambics, I think it's more in keeping with the classic style.
Sierra Nevada Anniversary Ale
This is to SNPA what Coopers Sparkling Ale is to the normal Coopers Pale Ale, basically a darker higher alcohol version of more or less the same.
Sierra Nevada Porter
Not a bad porter, but far from the best of the bunch that I had here, unremarkable.
Belfast Black
This is a good stout, I'd recommend it to anyone, very impressed with another offering from this brewery.
Belfast Lager
I'm not a fan of this one at all, unlike it's black cousin. I dislike the fact that it's brewed using a non noble hop and I'm a pils fan having lived for years in Germany.
Molly's chocolate stout
This for me was the low point of the whole lot, thin, lacking in body, no chocolate note, totally underwhelming. It also had too much patent malt which made it kind of ashy.
Headless Dog
I liked this one a lot, I find that the American styles tend to overemphasise the hops and are in a competition to beat you to death with aroma hopping. This one strikes a nice balance with the usage of American hops in a more measured way.
Clotworthy Dobbin
This was another highlight, but I knew that buying it, I'd had this one before and knew it was a lovely malty dark beer. I like this one a lot.
Porterhouse Plain
Fantastic stout, beats most of them out there, very drinkable, I like it a lot.
Porterhouse Hophead
This is too hoppy for me, not to my taste, it's trying to compete with the aforementioned high hop levels of the US beers. I like it a little more reserved, I think the main reason is I did a beer very like this at Xmas and overdid it one night and have not been good with the hops in those levels since.
Timothy Taylor Land Lord
This is an award winning pale ale/bitter and I probably amn't doing it justice because I had just brewed a best bitter that is very very similar to it by fluke and I think mine is better and I think I'm being objective, maybe not but hey.

It's worth a run down there and as a member of the Irish Craft Brewer website I got a ten percent discount. I got the whole lot for 61 euros which is not bad considering that I had two of most of them apart from the lambics, the dobbin ( only one bottle left) and the SN range as they were 4 for a tenner.

Most of the beer names are hotlinked to the beer on the drinkstore website where you can order online for delivery.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Bottling my Noble Pale Ale.

Before I brewed the beer on Sunday, I had a beer to bottle to make space in the spare room.
As anyone who has ever bottled will tell you, it's a bit of a pain. Washing the bottles, drying them and then sterilising and, if you're unlucky, rinsing. There are ways to make the job a little less tedious.
I'll run through what I consider almost the optimal bottling setup for the average homebrewer who doesn't have cornelius kegs and a beer gun.

Bottle washing brush
Bottle tree
Auto syphon
25l bottling bucket with little bottler
Bottles/Swing top bottles
Crown caps
Twin lever capper*
Star san or other no-rinse sanitiser**
spray bottle of star san
Gorilla Bucket or other large trug
Pot for priming solution
Priming sugar/malt/glucose
Kitchen weighing scales
Brewing thermometer
Brewing paddle
Small paint brush

*The twin lever capper is sub optimal but I have to admit I quite like it, if you want a better one then go for a bench capper.
**If you can't get star san then you can use a mixture of 25l of water with 30ml of vinegar and 30 ml of thin bleach added. N.B. DO NOT MIX BLEACH AND VINEGAR NEAT IT WILL PRODUCE TOXIC CHLORINE. Pitch them one after the other into the water.

First thing up which is the hardest is to fill the bath with warm water and a drop of washing up liquid, not too much just enough to create a light foam and soak your bottles for a while then scrub them with the bottle brush. If you are smart when you empty a beer, you rinse it out and ensure that yeast does not go hard and crud up inside it or washing becomes a bit of a nightmare.
I am lucky insofar as I have a lot of German friends due to my job and one or two of them gave me their empties in cases rather than bring them back to Germany for a refund, they get a few botttles of homebrew off of me now and again, the arrangement suits everyone :)
Once the bottles are washed and in their cases then I bring them downstairs and fill the trug with star san and water to the recommended dosage. Star san is great stuff, it's a blend of organic acids that are used in the brewing and dairy industries to sterilise steel tanks, it is safe to drink the stuff at the recommended concentration, it is a very effective sanitiser and you don't rinse it off the bottles.
So once the bottles have had 30 seconds in this stuff they're ready to go on the bottle tree.
Which has been thoroughly cleaned also and sprayed down with star san.

That's the bottles sorted. It's a multi tasking operation so while some of this is going on you also need to add some of your beer via the syphon to the pot and add the priming sugar you decide on to this, I tend to use malt as I don't like white sugars in my brews as they produce a cidery off taste I don't like, some say it's irrelevant, I don't believe it is.

You can use either your kit instructions or calculate the amount of sugar to style, there are lots of online calculators for this and most brewing software can do it, I use beersmith, it's great.

Bring that solution to 70 degrees at least for about three minutes and then you've sterilised the malt, which you can't presume is sterile from the factory.

From here you take your cleaned and sterilised bottling bucket (whish also doubles as a fermenter when you remove the bottler attachment) and you add your priming solution to the bucket and then syphon the rest of your beer on top and mix it with your paddle or spoon.
The advantages of a bottling bucket vs other methods are too numerous to mention, suffice to say it is the best method despite what others will say. The old school method is to add a spoon or a half a spoon of sugar to each bottle, for a start it's fiddly.

Fill your bottles one by one, if you want you can put a cap on top of them straight away and cap later, in this pic I am on my first case of bottles which were swing top before I got on to the crown cap bottles in the second and subsequent case.
I also filled one budget barrel but that's easy and the same process as filling your bottling bucket, I'll post again about filling and maintaining barrels it's not for this one.

Next step is to cap the bottles, using a wing capper is something you learn, take it easy, don't press down too hard or you might either break the bottle or put a ring shaped dent in the top of the cap. You'll get it after a while, a lot of people don't like the wing cappers and go straight for bench cappers, I have to admit I get on with it and don't think the extra cost of a bench capper is justified.

And the end result of the half days work was the following.

I meant to start this post as what I did, and I did that but it also became an instructable, so I hope it helps some and gives an insight into a method that I find good for bottling and kegging.
There are lots of ways to do it, but I find this one easiest for me at present.

I got my wife to make me up a label for it which I simply print on normal copy paper and then stick on with milk using a paint brush to brush it on the back of the label, milk is great, it's cheap and easy and it works like glue once it goes off.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

My first post and the tale of The Old Speckled Hen

If you're reading this the chances are that you either know me or have an interest in brewing, or both. I've decided that my brewing should be blogged as up to now it's just been written to forums and my handy moleskine brewlog. I'll also use this blog now and again to blog stuff I cook, I have to get used to this though because I did a risotto the other night and forgot the camera and was thinking afterwards that it would have been good to have photos for the blog, but it was tasty.

I knocked up a beer on Sunday, It's an old speckled hen clone, which is about my favourite cask ale.
Here's the recipe I ended up using.

Type: Partial Mash

Batch Size: 57.00 L

Brewer: Eoin

Amount Item Type % or IBU
3.75 kg muntons light
Extract 35.5 %
1.12 kg Lyle's Golden Syrup
Extract 10.6 %
4.00 kg Pale Malt, Maris Otter
Grain 37.8 %
1.25 kg Caramel/Crystal Malt
Grain 11.8 %
0.20 kg Wheat Malt Grain 1.9 %
100.00 gm Northern Brewer [8%] (60 min) Hops 42.5 IBU
37.50 gm Goldings [4.00%] (15 min) Hops 3.6 IBU
25.00 gm Goldings [4.00%] (5 min) Hops 1.0 IBU
0.25 kg Demerara Sugar (3.9 EBC) Sugar 2.4 %

I reused 4 cups Danstar Nottingham Yeast from my last batch because the yeast was a little fluffy and had a lot of break material in it.

Beer Profile

Est Original Gravity: 1.054 SG

Est Final Gravity: 1.014 SG
Estimated Alcohol by Vol: 5.2 %
Bitterness: 47 IBU
Est Color: 19.4 EBC Color:

Ingredients all laid out and ready.

A bit of history about the old speckled hen which I have taken from this thread which is also where I got most of the recipe from, I've added the wheat malt myself for increased head retention. I'm using pH 5.2 mash stabiliser for the first time.

"Old Speckled Hen was first brewed in Abingdon, Oxfordshire to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the local MG car factory. WHY? I hear you ask. Well, sit back, relax, and I'll tell you. The name is actually derived from the term "owld speckled 'un", used to describe an old MG car which was used as a factory run-around. Through time, this strange, canvas-covered saloon became covered with flecks of paint and was dubbed the "owld speckled 'un" by locals. There you are, simple and completely uninteresting. The brewing of Old Speckled Hen was transferred in 1999 from Abingdon in Oxfordshire to Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk. These days Greene King brews all its beers in Bury St Edmunds, where ale has been a feature of life since at least as far back as 1086."

For my partial mash I used the brew in a bag technique and sparged as well as I could.
Despite the pH stabiliser my pH didn't drop below 6.1. I'll keep an eye on this because if it's not worth it then it's not worth it.

Brew in a bag ready to go, the bag was made by my ever so talented wife
The other pic is of the boil in full swing. I skimmed off the hot break material as well as I could, it saves on boilovers.
There was lots of cold break material and hops left in the boiler at the end.

Gratuitous gunk shot.(ooh err matron)

Once done , I ran off the wort, I ended up with 58l of 1.052 wort, which should end up about 5.2% ABV which is on target.

The whole lot then went into the fridge with a few cupfuls of the Notty sludge from my last brew.

The wife got me an old fridge for free off one of her forums and I modified it with some Kingspan insulation and polyurethane sprayfoam to fit my fermenter. I then bypassed the thermostat on the fridge so it's permanently on when plugged in and then attached it to an ATC-800+ which has the ability to turn on heat and cold circuits to maintain a temperature within a degree either side of a set temperature. I have a heat belt attached to the heating circuit and the cold is on the fridge. I have it set to 18c as I like the low flavour profile of the Nottingham yeast at low temperatures.

I did a bottling session the same day, I'll post about that shortly.