Mar 2014


I’ve heard loads of times that the best beer recipes contain very few ingredients. Having said this, I’m a sucker for chucking in just a bit of every type of malt in sight into my mash tun, or mixing every hop variety I can get my hands on. The problem with this is that whenever I do this I always end up with a beer where I’ll think- well, I quite like that flavour, but I’ve got no idea which ingredient it came from. I reckon I’m not the only one who suffers from this urge to complicate everything. Because of this (I think) single hop beers seem to be getting more and more common. It’s like a brewer’s detox.

Some crazy people seem to have taken this idea even further, into total cold turkey territory. The result of this is SMaSH, or Single Malt and Single Hop, which sort of does what it says on the tin. Rather than picking from a massive list of ingredients, the SMaSH brewer can only choose three- one malt, one hop variety and one yeast strain. This can be a really interesting experiment for three reasons. Firstly, because you can drink a SMaSH beer and pretty accurately tell the flavour of each of those three ingredients. Secondly, because you could take those same ingredients and make very different beers depending on process variables like boil length and fermentation temperature. And thirdly, because it’s called SMaSH! Anyway, I was planning my next brew a few weeks ago and decided I had to have a go. My nominated ingredients: Canadian 2 row pale malt, Cascade hops and SafAle 04 British ale yeast.

First things first though, I had a few issues to address from my last, less than successful, brew day. The biggest problem seemed to come from an overly fine grain crush, so I reset the rollers on my mill using a credit card to set the gap. I read that on a forum somewhere. The manual says something about feeler gauges and deadly accuracy, but I didn’t have any gauges, and the card trick seemed to do the job. Before and after:


So yeah, I’d recommend the credit card trick, which is pretty much as it sounds. I actually used my Ikea family card. You set the space at each end of the rollers, which gives at least a visually accurate spacing across the unit. This gave a crush which looked as it should- no massive bits of white endosperm, but also a relatively intact husk content.


As I said I’m used to chucking in a bunch of speciality malts, so I was surprised at how pale the mash run-off from just the two row malt was. To my eye anyway it wasn’t much darker than lager malts which I’d brewed with in the past. To give you an idea, here’s the strong wort, weak wort and post boil wort while I was taking gravity measurements.


This is a potential area of problem for SMaSH brewing. Although once upon a time it was common to brew dark beers with just one malt variety giving fermentable sugars and colour (porter and brown malt being a famous example), nowadays coloured malt tends to be not very fermentable and only used in small quantities with a more fermentable base malt. So brewing an all crystal malt beer would give a unfermentable wort and a very sweet beer. At least that’s the theory- I’ve never tried it. To counter this, SMaSH brewers sometimes use more lightly kilned speciality malts like Munich malt to give a darker colour and more body. However, it would be difficult to brew, for example, a dry stout using only one malt variety. For this reason, pale ales and IPAs are common SMaSH styles. Which I was quite happy with as I’m going through a bit of a pale ale drinking patch anyway.

It being a pale ale, the most important ingredient going into the beer was the hops. I chose cascades partly based on the success of commercial single hop cascade beers- Alexander Keith’s have been advertising their Cascade pale ale like crazy, including heavy Super Bowl rotation, and I had to one-up them. It’s also the hop more than any other credited with kicking off the microbrewing revolution, so it felt like time to pay my dues.


And, you know what, despite having its time in the sun as the hop de jour, a crown passed down to some other hops beginning with the letter C, a bunch of Aussie upstarts and lately some hops that are so new and cool they don’t even have names yet, Cascade is still kicking butt like its 1995. Or 1971, which is apparently when it was first bred, which makes me feel like a young upstart. Whatever, it tastes really good.

To make the most out of such a great ingredient, I made hop additions at 90 minutes, 10 minutes and 0 minutes to flame out, as well as racking onto some pellets in primary (unfortunately I had to leave the beer for a couple of weeks so couldn’t dry hop in a secondary vessel as I usually would). Another thing I mentioned in my last post was some difficulty with pellet hops. Well another great thing about Cascade is its availability, and I had no problem getting hold of enough leaf hops to use them exclusively during the boil. Which is more than can be said for most other varieties, but that’s another story.


So, what you’ll be dying to know, other than where I got my AWESOME R2-D2 bottle opener from (I don’t know, my even more awesome gal gave it to me!), is- is it any good? And I’d say yes, it’s great. Substantially better than the last brew in fact, which is always heartening. If it has any flaw it’s that I’d like it to be bigger and hoppier, but the recipe was designed to be a sessionable pale ale, which is pretty much what it is. It’s quite Sierra Nevada Pale Ale in hop character, but the Brit ale yeast gives it a bit more fruitiness compared to the Chico yeast strain. Which, to be honest, I’d use more if it weren’t for its piss poor flocculation. In fact I’ve got a wyeast pack of it in the fridge, so a reboot may be in order. As for body, it’s pleasantly dry which I’m quite liking at the moment compared to more caramely, darker ‘pale ales’. So yeah, overall, I’m pretty chuffed, and it’s disappearing fairly quickly. I get the feeling I might have to ramp up the hops and ABV for next time- I think the west coast is rubbing off on me. Obviously there’s considerable room for improvement, especially with yeast/fermentation. In fact, that’s probably going to take up a couple of posts in the near future, as I’m expanding my kit to include at least some degree of control over yeast pitching rates and temperature control. So I’ll have even fewer excuses if I make anything pants from now on. Here’s a little teaser of what I’ve been putting together this evening (no fires/electrocution yet):

Thermostatically controlled phone charging (Also GoT arrived in the post this morning...)


Trouble Brewing

I don’t know if you’ve read Nicholas Blake’s book There’s Trouble Brewing, a 40s whodunnit set in a small rural British brewery (Blake didn’t actually exist- the book was written by then poet laureate and now famous dad Cecil Day-Lewis). If you haven’t it’s well worth the read if you’re interested in either brewery history or golden age crime fiction. I read it at work and was accused of reading anything with the word ‘brewing’ in the title. Which was probably a fair cop, but it definitely wins my award for being the easiest to read book about the subject. Mind you, The Handbook of Brewing isn’t offering up much competition.

Anyway, I was reminded of the cheesy pun in the book’s title a couple of weeks ago when I had my own trouble brewing. This wasn’t a huge surprise, as I was brewing the first batch with my new homebrewery, and you expect a certain number of teething issues. I have to say, despite a pessimistically early start to the day, even I didn’t expect the 12 hour + monstrosity of a brew day that was to come. And I didn’t even have any homebrew in the fridge to numb the pain. The horror.

Come to think of it this beer was cursed from the start. When I went to the homebrew shop I managed to spill 5 kgs of pale malt on the shop floor 5 minutes from closing time. Apologies to the very patient guy who helped clear that up. And for some reason I chose a style for the inaugural brew that I’ve never managed to brew the way I want it. That style was a Red Ale- more specifically, somewhere between an American Red Ale and an Irish Red Ale, a bit of a difficult sweet spot to hit. Between the two, because I’ve never been a massive fan of Red Ales which are really just IPAs with a bit more colour, and although I like the fuller body of an Irish Red, they can get a bit cloying with their traditionally low bitterness levels. So what I wanted was a beer with a decent crystal malt character (but not too much) backed up by a bit of bitterness and some hop aroma. And of course, probably most importantly, it had to be just the right colour. Because above all great Red Ales have to look right as well as being tasty. Which all meant that, whereas with say an IPA I could have sat back and worried about one thing, getting enough hops in, with a Red I gave myself three things to think about- colour, body and hop character.

Cockup Number 1

From the beginning then this was always quite likely to be a beer that was either glorious or catastrophic. To be honest, things started to go downhill pretty quickly as well. Cockup number 1 came in the form of my new monster 2 malt mill. I have to say, hats off to the mill itself, it’s a total beast, and ate through 10 kg of pale, crystal and black malts in about 2 minutes. Which is even more impressive considering that the rollers out of the box were set so close together that they ground the whole lot pretty much to dust. The result- a mega stuck mash that took almost 3 hours to clear, although admittedly at a pretty ridiculously high efficiency level. Lesson learnt- don’t trust the manual when it says to leave the settings where the are- my rollers must have shifted in transit, and in fact the seal on the box was already broken, so who knows. What I do know is that I’ll be re-adjusting them for next time.

Mash runoff, real time

So far, positives to draw included the speed with which the Canadian Tire patio burners had managed to heat up the absolutely freezing tap water to strike temp. From about 5 to 75 degrees took 20 minutes, a pretty substantial improvement on the hour or so my electric system in the UK would have taken.


However, that heating power came back to bite me spectacularly when I finally got the runoff finished and the kettle on to boil. Thinking I had a bit of time to finish calculating and weighing out my hop bill, I took a bit of a break and stood watching the propane do its job while I wondered whether I was suffering from Carbon Monoxide poisoning or just feeling a bit sleepy. What I hadn’t bargained for though was the reduced boiling point caused by my 600 metres of elevation above sea level. And so, as I stood there watching, the wort hit 94 degrees and exploded out of the kettle before I could get any hops in to try and calm it down. Result- much lost wort and a horrible clean up job at the end of the day. Second lesson learnt.

94 degrees, the new 100 degrees

Aside from the mess on the floor, the rest of the boil passed uneventfully, except for a blizzard outside (we made a snowman later!). When it came time to cool and transfer the wort to FV, I did make a few new discoveries though. The first of these was that my new Blichmann Therminator plate chiller, combined with the ridiculously cold ground water (air temperature was probably around minus 5 C) led to a pitching temperature of about 10 degrees. More on this later. Another problem stemmed from my hop additions. I’d decided on a bittering addition of Magnum pellets, with Cascade pellets and Amarillo and Citra leaf hops at 10 minutes and flame out. The main reason for this was that at the local brewing shop here pellets were cheaper and there were more varieties available than leaf hops. Anyway this turned out to be a bit of a problem- I’m used to leaf hops, and didn’t anticipate how quickly such a high percentage of pellets would block the bazooka screen I was using during run off.

The red canoe

Back to that pitching temperature- it was so cold in the garage that after 24 hours of ‘fermentation’ there wasn’t much sign of activity, so I moved the two carboys I was using inside the house to warm up overnight. Unfortunately I forgot that the room I moved them to has underfloor heating, with the result that fermentation went from very cold to very hot in a very short space of time. Not exactly ideal.


The moment of truth came a couple of weeks later. Unfortunately, not until I’d experienced my first bottle bomb ever- even more cleaning up! And, all things considered, the beer turned out Okay for a first run through the brewing kit. There are some things I would change about the recipe (which you can find here) though. Although final gravity ended up at 1.010, which I thought would be low enough, it still has a bit more body than I would like, so I’d probably cut down on the crystal malt and use more black malt for colour. This sweetness is probably more noticeable because the bitterness is slightly less than I would ideally like it to be, so I’d probably bump that up a few BUs as well. And, though I thought my aroma additions of Citra and Amarillo would be enough to give a fairly strong hop aroma, it didn’t. I still probably wouldn’t want to dry hop this type of beer, so I’ll either need to add a bigger aroma addition next time of find another way of making the addition. Ideally I’d really like a hop back equivalent, but I haven’t decided how I’ll fit that into my current system. Finally, that hot fermentation ended up giving the beer some higher alcohol aromas, though at least that problem should be easier to fix. I’ve got one of these sitting on the kitchen table, so all I need is an old fridge and I should have a temperature controlled fermentation chamber. Or, I could just leave the fermenter in the garage next time...


Papa's Got A Brand New Bag

A new website, a new country, a new garage. And the best bit... A new home brewery to go in it!

Yes, sadly when Naomi and I moved to Canada in January my old kit wouldn’t fit in my luggage. So I did the only reasonable thing- I decided to do it all again as soon as possible. Except, this time I’d buy/make all the gear I’d always wanted at home. Massively inefficient propane burners? They look awesome and dangerous, let’s get it done. A beer fridge? Definitely need one of them. An automatic malt mill? Crucial. Shiny new stainless steel vessels? Of course.

With all that gear and prior accusations of “taking over the house” fresh in my mind, I realised I needed somewhere to contain all of my new stuff. So I made another totally rational decision. Of all the brewing kit I’d ever lusted after, without doubt top of the list was a dedicated stand to ‘contain’ all of my kit. A so called brewing sculpture. Now, I don’t have a sculpture in me- I can’t weld, didn’t own any tools and am a bit crap at DIY. But how hard could it be to drill a few holes and bolt some metal together, right? And could I really consider myself a dedicated homebrewer unless I had a permanent hulking shrine to the hobby taking up space in the garage? Answers on a postcard please.

Anyway, blissfully ignorant of the blood, sweat, tears and trips to Home Depot of the next two weeks, I started out with these very rough plans and an idea to make a weldless stand out of mild angle steel that would take three brew vessels, two of them powered by propane burners. For burners, I didn’t want to fuss with connecting up the cast iron ‘Banjo’ type burners along with the heat shields they necessitate, but wanted to be able to drop in a burner already connected to a stand and regulator such as this one. This was mainly for simplicity- I don’t know much about propane, and custom plumbing a gas line into the back of the stand seemed like a recipe for making an early departure from this mortal coil.

As for materials, I wanted something that would be sturdy enough to hold three full 10 gallon vessels, but also easy enough to cut and drill. The compromise I came up with was to use 1 1/4” angle stock like this. This is similar to the iron used in old bed frames, which I considered, but decided against due to the amount of angle grinding it would have taken to clean the average used bed frame up. It unfortunately wasn’t cheap however, as my design required four 6 foot pieces, ten 4 foot pieces and seven 4 foot lengths of straight iron such as this. To bolt this lot together took around 80 stainless 1/4” nuts and bolts, and I put the whole thing on Home Depot casters rated to about 100kg each. To do the assembly I also had to purchase a small angle grinder and a drill, which I’ve ended up using to power my mill. All in all, on day one when I had all of this in a pile on the garage floor, my only thought was- what have I done? It looked like I’d transported the set of Scrapheap Challenge into the house.

The first test corner

The first step was cutting the lengths of angle down to size. The ten 4 foot lengths became ten 70 cm and ten 44 cm pieces each, making up the height and depth pieces of the stand. The length pieces were cut to 160cm, the length I wanted to keep the burners away from my new plastic mash tun but without taking up a ridiculous amount of space. This involved my first experience of cutting using the angle grinder. Which, if you’ve never done before, I’m going to say now you haven’t lived. You’ll feel like a fire bringing God and like you are about to cut your own leg off all at once. Luckily the only damage inflicted was a hole in the back of my glove- next time I’ll definitely spring for leather gloves rather than polyester ones. You live and learn.

I built the base of the stand first, trying to keep the angles as close to right angles as possible before building the outer frame of the stand. When it resembled a 3D rectangle, I put the casters on so I could move it around before filling in the supports to hold the burners and mash tun. Finally I bolted in cross members on the base of the stand so that the vessels store inside the frame when not in use.

brewstand1 (1)

As you’ll be able to see, the two burner stations for hot liquor tank and kettle are the left hand and centre positions, with the mash tun sitting on top of the stand on the right. At this point the metal was left in its unfinished state, which I liked, but which would have unfortunately rusted. So I sanded it down using a rotary sander and then painted it. Another live and learn moment- I bought a sanding pad attachment for the angle grinder, but it turned out to not so much lightly sand as dissolve the metal. So that’ll be staying in the box from now on.



Painting the thing was a bit of an interesting experience too, as the can of VHT metallic black engine paint I bought turned out to not even coat half the stand. I rushed down to the local automotive store (the can says to paint all coats within an hour) and the assistant there recommended two cans of brake calliper paint by the same brand. On the whole this worked loads better, giving a pretty even coat which is apparently safe up to almost 1000 degrees C. The downside with any automobile paint on something like this is that it’s impossible to cure the paint as recommended on the can- I didn’t even have a heat gun to half arse it, never mind a curing oven. Despite this the paint is definitely functional- it gets a bit scratched when sliding the stainless pots around, but isn’t soft enough to mark with a finger nail. On the whole I think I’ll live with it, and have a bit of paint left for any touch-ups if I can be bothered.

To give a better idea how this should all work I’ve put a couple of pics below of the stand ‘fully-loaded’ both in use and in storage. On the whole I couldn’t exactly recommend this project to anyone unless they enjoyed self-harm and poverty. Having said that, if you’ve decided like I did that you want to do this I’m unlikely to put you off, and if that’s the case I’d recommend this type of construction if, like me, you decide that welding seems just a little too hazardous. You’ll almost certainly still be able to put together a functional brewing stand and with a bit of luck live to tell the tales of your manly awesomeness / new depths of weird and obsessive behaviour.