Archive for May, 2015

AG#35 – Dimanche Grisette


After a couple of years of disappointing summer brewing, I felt that I approached things correctly last year. Instead of doing my usual styles of beer like pale ales and IPAs, I concentrated on using yeasts which thrive under warmer conditions. I did some Belgian/Trappist beers with excellent results and I also did some wines and turbo ciders. It’s a good approach and one I was determined to take again this year. As the summer approaches I’ve decided on doing a series of saison ales, a Belgian farmhouse style which must be fermented at warm temperatures.

The classic strain for saison is the so-called “Dupont” strain, available from WhiteLabs as WLP565. However, this particular strain is known to be a little finnicky – often stalling at higher gravities and leaving an under-attenuated beer. Heavy aeration in conjunction with controlled, elevated fermentation temperature can eliminate these issues, but some brewers opt to finish the beer by pitching a neutral ale yeast which produces the dry beer that is required. In contrast, WhiteLab’s WLP566 Saison II strain (reported to be another strain isolated from the “Dupont” multi-strain culture) is reported to be less troublesome, giving the beer a classic saison character but attenuating fully in a timely fashion.

This recipe was inspired by the description of grisette beers in the excellent book, “Farmhouse Ales: Culture and Craftsmanship in the Belgian Tradition” by Phil Markowski. The book describes the beer style as being the traditional beer of Belgian miners who would exit the mines after a long shift to be handed a glass of this beer by the local young ladies. The ladies were clad in grey uniforms, and were known as the “grisettes”, “gris” being the French translation for “grey”. The beer style is intended to be low-alcohol, light-bodied, refreshing, but full of flavour. In effect, they’re a low-gravity saison.

Recipe Specifications

Boil Size: 27.90 l
Post Boil Volume: 23.40 l
Batch Size (fermenter): 19.00 l
Bottling Volume: 17.00 l
Estimated OG: 1.044 SG
Estimated Color: 6.8 EBC
Estimated IBU: 21.2 IBUs
Brewhouse Efficiency: 60.00 %
Est Mash Efficiency: 71.1 %
Boil Time: 90 Minutes


3 g Gypsum (Calcium Sulfate) (Mash 60.0 mins)
4.052 kg Bohemian Pilsner Malt, Weyermann, 90.0 %
0.450 kg Wheat Malt, Bel (3.9 EBC), 10.0 %
38g Styrian Goldings [3.0 %] – Boil 60.0 min, 15.8 IBUs
0.50 Items Whirlfloc Tablet (Boil 10.0 mins)
20 g Saaz [4.80 %] – Boil 10.0 min, 2.8 IBUs
20 g Styrian Goldings [3.0 %] – Boil 2.0 min
1.0 pkg Belgian Saison I Ale (White Labs #WLP565 Yeast)
1.0 pkg Belgian Saison II Yeast (White Labs #WLP566 Yeast) (1.2 litre starter 25/05/2015)

Mash Schedule: Bubbles’ Single Infusion, Full Body, Batch Sparge
Total Grain Weight: 4.502 kg
Mash In           Add 12.61 l of water at 74.6 C          68.0 C        60 min

Sparge: Batch sparge with 2 steps (Drain mash tun , 20.30l) of 77.0 C water

29/05/2015 – Was a bit worried that the starter hadn’t finished so I took a gravity reading. Delighted to see it was down to 1.008. Taste was a bit tart but this could have been down to the yeast still in suspension.

31/05/2015 – Pitched yeast around 11am and was fermenting by lunchtime. Really pale wort, lovely spicy aroma from the hops.

01/06/2015 – Ffs! It’s only just over 24 hours since pitching and the airlock has gone dead already. The airlock was like a machine gun for 24 hours but I wasn’t expecting the fermentation to be finished this quickly. Took a temperature reading of 21.7c which should be fine for both yeast strains. Have a blanket wrapped around the fermenter.

10/06/2015 – Tentatively took a gravity reading to see what is going on with this. I was expecting an under-attenuated mess but it’s down to 1.004. It’s the palest beer I’ve done in a long time. Yeast hasn’t fully dropped out yet so I might cold crash it for a few days to see if that helps. The most satisfying thing, however, is that it tastes fantastic already. Dry, spicy, grainy, fruity. Just like a saison really.. I’m very excited about the brews i can do with this yeast during the summer. Might do the spelt saison next.

21/06/2015 – Racked this to a secondary fermenter because I wanted the yeast cake for my spelt saison. I was expecting it to be pretty yeasty because there was a lot of yeast floating on top of the beer, but this thing is clear as glass. A little bit tart, lots of Belgian flavour, and the aroma, although a little sulphurous, is amazing. For a 4% beer it’s got bags of flavour. I checked out the recipe in BeerSmith this morning and noticed that the expected FG on this is 1.014. No way is a saison supposed to finish at 1.014! Will bottle in the next day or two.

23/06/2015 – Primed with 169g corn sugar (18 litres at 3.2 vol). 12 x 750ml bottles and 18 x 500ml bottles.

16/07/2015 – Pretty impressive first taste andI’m glad to have it tasting so well after only a few weeks in the bottle. At least now I’ll have a nice Belgian sipper for the summer months. It’s a beautiful colour – pale straw with a nice little haze to it. It’s light-bodiesas you’d expect, low malt flavour, but plenty of Belgian yeast character shining through. Carbonation level seems fine, but the head is low. Despite the low head, the lacing down the glass is very impressive. Very happy with this. The starting and finishing gravities on this give an ABV of 5.2%, a long way away from the 4.% predicted by BeerSmith. But I was using the wrong mash temperature in my calculations, which affected the attenuation a lot.

22/07/2015 – This is a great beer but next time I think I’d put a little Munich in to boost the malt flavours. I like the light body, but malt-wise, it’s a little one-dimensional. I’d also love to see what some light Brett notes would do for this beer. Carbonation is actually good, and the head retention is pretty good, unlike the first bottle I opened. This will definitely disappear in short order.

14/09/2015 – Really enjoyed this, though the tartness is probably a little overwhelming.

AG#34 – Tailgunner Best Bitter


This is re-brew of the excellent Special Bitter I did last year. It’s essentially the same recipe, but I’m subbing the small amount of amber malt for biscuit malt, to see what effect that has. This third iteration has more in common with the first version of this beer I did in 2013. As English bitters go, it’s a complex grist, but I hope this will give the beer plenty of complexity. I hope to keg this one in order to have a nice bitter on tap during the summer months. Some water treatment is essential for these styles of beer, so I’ll be “burtonising” the water with gypsum and Epsom salts. This will the beer a dry, mineral-like quality which will keep the beer crisp and emphasise the English hops.

Recipe Specifications

Boil Size: 27.92 l
Post Boil Volume: 23.92 l
Batch Size (fermenter): 19.00 l
Bottling Volume: 17.00 l
Estimated OG: 1.048 SG
Estimated Color: 18.2 EBC
Estimated IBU: 32.7 IBUs
Brewhouse Efficiency: 60.00 %
Est Mash Efficiency: 72.6 %
Boil Time: 60 Minutes


5 g Gypsum (Calcium Sulfate) (Mash 60.0 mins)
2 g Epsom Salts (Magnesium Sulfate) (Mash 60.0 mins)
4.200 kg Pale Malt, Maris Otter (5.9 EBC), 87.5 %
0.300 kg Wheat Malt, Bel (3.9 EBC), 6.3 %
0.200 kg Caramel/Crystal Malt – 60L (118.2 EBC), 4.2 %
0.075 kg Biscuit Malt (45.3 EBC), 1.6 %
0.025 kg Black (Patent) Malt (985.0 EBC), 0.5 %
22 g Goldings, East Kent [6.50 %] – Boil 60.0, 18.5 IBUs
15 g Fuggles [5.10 %] – Boil 60.0 min, 9.9 IBUs
15 g Fuggles [5.10 %] – Boil 10.0 min, 2.0 IBUs
15 g Goldings, East Kent [5.70 %] – Boil 10.0, 2.2 IBUs
1.0 pkg Dry English Ale (White Labs #WLP007) (1.2 litre starter)

Mash Schedule: Bubbles’ Single Infusion, Full Body, Batch Sparge
Total Grain Weight: 4.800 kg
Mash In           Add 13.44 l of water at 74.6 C          68.0 C        60 min

Sparge: Batch sparge with 2 steps (Drain mash tun , 19.79l) of 77.0 C water

Brew Day 25/05/2015 – Hit an OG of 1.058, which happened the last time I brewed this beer! Can’t explain the sudden jump in efficiency. Beer tasted great going into the fermenter. It was also the clearest wort I’ve ever seen, practically no cold break in the fermenter.

05/06/2015 – Kegged this into one of my new cornies. Also did 4 bottles and primed with carb drops. Should be a great session beer for the summer months.

14/09/2015 – Dreadful disaster with this batch. The few bottle that I bottle conditioned turned out to be completely overcarbonated. I can’t even taste the beer there’s so much prickly carbonic acid. Very disappointing. Even worse was the kegged version which tastes completely of cola. Must be from the seals on the cornies. What a waste of time this batch was!

MEAD#3 – Olly’s Blackcurrant Melomel

This was a spur of the moment “brew” because the freezer door was left open and the huge bag of blackcurrants had just started to thaw. In preparation for a blackberry melomel I’d planned on doing towards the end of the summer, I’d procured a couple of big jars of honey, the correct yeast and I thought “why, not?”. I’d hoped to have 1.8kg of fruit for the melomel (to match the 1.8kg of honey that I planned on using), but the bag was short at only 1.34kg. But as blackcurrants are more acidic than blackberries, it might be just as well.

17/05/2015 Brew Day – “Brew Day” is a rather grandiose term for whizzing a couple of jars of honey into a pot of water and sprinkling on some yeast.. I did my usual “no heat” method. I poured most of a 5 litre container of spring water into my small stockpot. The stockpot had been sanitised by boiling water in it for a few minutes. I used 2 x 900g of Holland & Barrett’s Blended honey. Whizzed the honey in using the stick blender along with 1/2 tsp of yeast nutrient (Young’s, containing diammonium phosphate) and 1/2 tsp pectolase. The fruit is going to contribute pectic haze to the mead and I want to remove it. Put 1.34kg frozen blackcurrants into the sanitised muslin bag and secured it with a clip. Poured the honey mixture on top of the berries before rinsing the post out with the rest of the bottled water. Great colour almost straight away. Sprinkled a full sachet of Lalvin 71B on the must and set the lid on. The berries are still frozen so it should take a few hours for the must to get up to temperature and start fermenting. I’m not using any acid blend in this recipe as the fruit should contribute more than enough balancing acidity. The must aroma was lingering in my nostrils all evening, amazing!

18/05/2015 – No action from the fermenter, nearly 14 hours later! I hope this is not going to be the second bevvie in a row which fails to ferment. The fruit aroma is even more apparent today, and the colour is getting darker. [Update: Got home from work and this thing hadn’t started. A couple of tiny clumps of yeast. Added another 1/2 tsp yeast nutrient and roused with a sanitised paddle.]

19/05/2015 – Seems to be more action going on now. Not much foam to speak of, but a bit of fizzing and CO2 being released. Though it’s hard to see exactly what’s going on in there with the huge muslin bag.

29/05/2015 – Bit worried about the lack of activity from this, so I took a gravity reading. I expected a high SG, but it’s already down to 1.008! Had a taste too – blackcurrant flavour is not bad, but it’s pretty acidic. Hopefully this will age out. I’m a bit worried that a lot of the blackcurrants are still intact. I expected them to have broken up by now.

25/07/2015 – Racked to tertiary. Plenty of sediment in the demi-john. Huge blackcurrant aroma, plenty in the flavour too, but it’s a little too acidic. Still might be quite drinkable though. I think I’ve realised that the trick to successful meads might be stopping the fermentation at some point to balance it. Some further reading required.

07/02/2016 – First proper taste, took a sample from the demi-john in the shed. Huge blackcurrant flavour and high acidity, no honey in evidence expcept in the aroma. Even as a fruit wine, I think this is still too acidic, it’s just out of balance. However, I finished the sample, and I’ll definitely bottle the batch.

27/06/2016 – I decided some time ago that since this mead is practically undrinkable because of the high dryness and high acidity, it would be a good opportunity to experiment with back-sweetening. So I added sulphite in the form of 1/4 crushed campden tablet, which is potassium metabisulphite. This kills the residual yeast that is in the mead. I added crushed powder directly, but I’ve since learned that it is better to dissolve the campden in some warm water before adding to the mead. The airlock is going again. Will leave two days before adding sorbate.

29/06/2016 – Dissolved 1/2 tsp potassium sorbate in a splash of cold water and added to the mead.

02/07/2016 – I made a sweetening solution with 100ml of water and 200g of organic honey. It turns out that I don’t need this much water to dissolve the honey well. After chilling the pot of honey in ice bath, I added it to the demi-john and mixed well. I had a taste and it was still very acidic so I made another solution with 50ml water and the remainder of the honey in the container (140g). This was chilled and added to the demi-john. Taste was much better, prominent honey, sweet but with balancing acidity. Unfortunately, as soon as I had put the airlock back on, it started bubbling. I hope that the mead is just off-gassing. The yeast surely wouldn’t be viable enough to start fermenting an addition of honey that quickly. Will be watching this nervously for the next couple of weeks. I’m very excited about the potential of this now, as the flavour has improved so much. [Update: an hour after back sweetening, the airlock was still bubbling, so I added more sulphite using 1/2 campden tablet.]

10/07/2016 – It was very warm this weekend and this mead started taking off again. The airlock was going like the clappers. Seems that something went wrong with my stabilisation regime. I took a gravity reading on 02/07 but I didn’t note the reading. I know that it was either 1.020 or 1.030 after back sweetening. I’ll take another gravity reading in a few days.

14/07/2016 – Took a gravity reading of 1.020! It’s possible that the gravity hasn’t dropped and the mead was just off gassing after adding the campden. Even though I have bottles ready with which to bottle this, I’m going to leave it sit for another 2 weeks and then take another reading. I’m enjoying the samples from the trial jar, I have to say. Nice and sweet up front, but then the tart blackcurrants kick in. It’s such a big investment for 5 litres of a beverage, but I hope all this effort will be worth it.

15/07/2015 – Very hot and humid day so the airlock started flying again. This is very frustrating! If it is refermenting then surely there would be more signs like fizzing from the mead itself and even some kreusen sitting on top?

29/07/2016 – Using my new refractometer, I took a reading of 11.5 Brix, which converts to 1.046. Surely this can’t be correct?

27/08/2016 – I took another gravity reading and it doesn’t seem to have changed, just under the 1.020 mark. So given that there’s no obvious signs of fermentation happening amd the mead tastes just as sweet (following back-sweetening) as it did 6 weeks ago, I decider to bottle. I bottled into 11 x 330ml bottles along with a single 500ml bottle in case I subsequently want to enter this in a competition. As a precaution, I have placed most of the bottles in the beer fridge, to retard fermentation, if it does decide to start working again. I’ve left 3 bottles in the shed, so I’m going to just cross my fingers with those. I’ll open those regularly, maybe one per month. If I do notice any sparkle developing, I’ll have to be very careful with the remaining bottles, keeping them in the fridge and drinking them sooner rather than later. But I’d be very disappointed to learn that my attempt at stabilisation has failed. It’s been a bit of a saga, this brew. But a huge learning experience. Among the things I’ve learned are the effects of fruit acidity on theflavour of a mead, and all of the stages involved when stabilising and back-sweetening mead.

06/09/2016 – This was the real test of my stabilisation regime. Tonight I opened a bottle that has just been sitting in the shed for the last couple of weeks. Disappointed to report that there was a barely perceptible hiss when I opened the bottle. There was also a very faint sparke on the first sip. So it seems that I undershot the campden and sorbate. Such a pity, but I really love this mead, so I’m determined to do better on the stabilisation next time I make a melomel. Such an amazing flavour though. This is not going to last long, and given that there’s still some active yeasties in there, maybe that’s just as well!

AG#33 – “Thanks, Chuck!” Mild

Recipe Specifications
Boil Size: 27.92 l
Post Boil Volume: 23.92 l
Batch Size (fermenter): 19.00 l
Bottling Volume: 17.00 l
Estimated OG: 1.042 SG
Estimated Color: 39.7 EBC
Estimated IBU: 20.1 IBUs
Brewhouse Efficiency: 60.00 %
Est Mash Efficiency: 72.6 %
Boil Time: 60 Minutes

Amt                   Name                                     Type          #        %/IBU
1.00 tsp              Gypsum (Calcium Sulfate) (Mash 60.0 mins Water Agent   1        –
3.000 kg              Mild Malt (7.9 EBC)                      Grain         2        69.0 %
0.600 kg              Pale Malt, Maris Otter, Crisp (6.5 EBC)  Grain         3        13.8 %
0.200 kg              Wheat, Torrified (3.3 EBC)               Grain         4        4.6 %
0.150 kg              Caramel/Crystal Malt – 60L (118.2 EBC)   Grain         5        3.4 %
0.150 kg              Caramel/Crystal Malt -120L (236.4 EBC)   Grain         6        3.4 %
0.100 kg              Black (Patent) Malt (985.0 EBC)          Grain         7        2.3 %
0.100 kg              Pale Chocolate Malt (591.0 EBC)          Grain         8        2.3 %
0.050 kg              Biscuit Malt (45.3 EBC)                  Grain         9        1.1 %
28 g                  Fuggles [4.40 %] – Boil 60.0 min         Hop           10       17.6 IBUs
0.50 Items            Whirlfloc Tablet (Boil 10.0 mins)        Fining        11       –
20 g                  Fuggles [4.40 %] – Boil 10.0 min         Hop           12       2.5 IBUs
1.0 pkg               British Ale (White Labs #WLP005) [35.49  Yeast         13       –
10.00 ml              WLN4000-HB Clarity-Ferm (Primary 0.0 min Fining        14       –

Mash Schedule: Bubbles’ Single Infusion, Full Body, Batch Sparge
Total Grain Weight: 4.350 kg
Name              Description                             Step Temperat Step Time
Mash In           Add 12.18 l of water at 74.6 C          68.0 C        60 min

Sparge: Batch sparge with 2 steps (Drain mash tun , 20.60l) of 77.0 C water

02/05/2015 Starter – Made starter with 125g spraymalt, then accidentally spilled a third of it in the sink where the pot was cooling. So I made up another small starter. Trying out my new stir plate for the first time today. Works a treat. Will leave to ferment out for 2 days in the kitchen before pitching.

03/05/2015 Mash & Brew Day – Two boilovers! Absolute disaster. I think it might be due to the torrified wheat in the grain bill.

04/05/2015 – No sign of fermentation before I went to bed. A bit worrying. With a yeast starter, I was expcting it to have taken off like a rocket, and well within 24 hours.

05/05/2015 – Absolute disaster. Flat as a pancake and no sign of the yeast starting. In a panic, I sprinkled a sachet of US-05 into the fermenter this morning. It’s no longer a “Mild”, of course. Milds are supposed to be fermented with English ale yeast, which are low attenuating strains and leave sweetness and body in the beer. [Update: fermenting when I got home from work! I have to assume it’s the US-05 that’s doing the fermenting, and that the WLP005 hasn’t just woken up.]

06/05/2015 – Fermenting away. I won’t be re-using the yeast on this one. Unless the character from the beer is really good, of course. It might end up being my “house strain”! 🙂 This brew has been a nightmare.

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