If I’m honest, I found the prospect of my first ‘proper’ homebrew rather daunting. I was convinced I’d screw it up somehow, so I decided to buy an all grain kit from Barley Bottom. This is a great idea for the nervous first timer – they have already worked out the recipe, measured out the grain and the hops and everything else you need and just send it to you in neatly labelled bags. It’s a slightly more expensive way of buying grain, but it removes one big scary area of potential error.
The kit I happened to pick was their Bitter and Twisted clone. It arrived as one big bag filled with all the grain, two different vacuum sealed packets of hops, a sachet of yeast (S-04), a Protafloc tablet and a reassuringly friendly and thorough set of instructions. It even included the guy’s telephone number in case I got stuck. For reference, their helpfully pre-measured recipe is below – I notice that they’ve slightly tweaked the hops in the version currently on their website, but only by a few grams.
4kg pale malt
200g crystal malt
200g flaked barley
200g torrefied wheat
60g Fuggles hops (full boil)
30g Bobek hops (last 15 minutes)
I set aside an entire Saturday, and by 11am had the boiler filled up with water and heating. By 11:30 it was up to temperature and it was time to add 20 litres or so of hot water to my mash tun, add the bag of grain, set an alarm and leave it to stew.
The alarm called me back for 1pm and I started the most tedious part of the whole process – sparging. Essentially this is just rinsing the grain but I haven’t yet worked out a way of automating it so for now it involves patiently pouring jugs of hot water over the grain bed in the mash tun while slowly opening the tap at the other end.
Still, by 2:30pm I was all sparged out, the wort was back into the boiler along with the Fuggles hops and was boiling furiously.
An hour later I realised that a big tea urn boiling vigorously resulted in turning my kitchen into a wallpaper-peeling sauna. I opened what windows I could, added the Bobek hops and Protafloc tablet and waited another 15 minutes before turning on my fancy home made immersion cooler.
By 5pm, the wort was in the fermenting bucket and cool enough to add the yeast and by the next morning, it looked like I had at least done something right.
Unfortunately, this was the high point of the experience. After a week, things had died down but the gravity was an annoyingly high 1027 which, as far as I could tell, was much too high to be any good. Various homebrew forums suggested all sorts of things to try, from giving it a good stir to adding another sachet of yeast. But nothing seemed to work, so after a couple of weeks I gave up and shoved it into some bottles.
At the time I bottled it, I tasted it. At that stage it was probably better than anything I’d made before but it still tasted a bit odd and homebrew-y. So I shoved the bottles in the corner and ignored them – by which, of course, I mean I allowed them to mature.
They’ve now been in the bottle for 3 months or so; there’s still a whiff of homebrew about them when you first open the bottle, which I put down to the mistake of bottling them straight from the fermenter instead of giving them some time in a barrel. But once it stands for a few minutes, it smells and tastes of … beer!
Given that it’s nominally a clone of Bitter and Twisted, I thought it would be interesting to do a proper side by side comparison.
My effort is on the left. It’s flatter than the real thing, which is only to be expected as I didn’t add any priming sugar when I bottled it. There was a reason for that – I was half convinced it hadn’t finished fermenting and had visions of exploding bottles if I added any more sugar to the equation.
More surprisingly it’s a little darker. I say surprisingly, because I would have thought that most of the colour was determined by the recipe, so how I managed to do that I’m not sure. It’s possible that the rather vigorous boil resulted in a smaller final volume than the recipe intended, which may affect the colour.
Moving on; the original smells a little sweet and fresh, green grass and citrus lime. My clone has a slightly richer smell but lacks that fresh greenness – the hops are much less obvious and more orange citrus than lime.
In the mouth, the original is light bodied with a deep hoppy bitter kick to it, some very subtle spicey notes and a lingering dry finish. The carbonation is a little overdone for my taste. My clone has a slightly heavier body, and more sweetness to it. There’s still a good hoppy bitterness but it’s not as significant and the finish, while still a little dry, is more subtle.
Overall, in a blind test there’s no way I’d have said they were the same beers although there are definitely some similarities. The differences, I suspect, are far more to do with my deficiencies as a brewer and not the fault of the recipe.
The really cool bit, however, is that in that blind test I’d have said that although different, they were both real beers. I may not be a particularly good brewer yet, but I’m definitely a brewer!
Edit 08/04/2012: As mentioned here, I recently discovered an error in the way I was testing and the beer was in fact fully fermented.