For this home brew, I had a very clear idea of what I wanted to make. A spring ale, light, sweet, not too bitter and with some nice gentle hop aroma. The grain recipe wrote itself; mostly pale malt with just a little crystal malt (the only other non-black malt I had in the cupboard!) to give it a little depth.
The hops were trickier; I’m not familiar enough with hop varieties to do any sensible sort of design work so in the end I decided to pick one of the hops in my fridge and do a single-hopped beer.
Zebedee Spring Ale
3900g pale malt
200g crystal malt
25g Golding hops for the full boil
25g Golding hops at flame-out
And that’s it.
However, at this stage I hadn’t had my refractometer revelation, and still believed I had problems with stuck fermentations. I still had a few ideas to try, and ended up changing quite a few things.
Firstly, I got hold of an alkalinity test and some brewers acid – what they call a “Carbonate Reducing Solution”. After careful measuring, it turns out that my initial guess of “oh about 50ml will do it” was spot on and I was ready to get to work.
To further improve my fermentability, I mashed a little low at 64 degrees. In a burst of laziness I decided to batch sparge – rather than very slowly pouring hot water over the grains in a continuous process, I drained the mash tun, added more hot water and had another cup of tea.
These two changes did two things. The alkalinity thing made me waste an extra half an hour at the start of the day, and the batch sparging made that part of the brewing day about 5 times less tedious. In terms of actual results, I’m not sure it made any difference. The lesson here may be that I should listen to my inner laziness more often!
After a furious 90 minute boil, I turned off the heat and added the second half of the hops. A lot of recipes I see call for aroma hops to go in 15 minutes before the end – the trouble with that seems to be that you lose a lot of those aromas even in a short 15 minute boil. My hope was that adding them after the boil would still mean soaking in very hot wort for half an hour while I cooled everything down and should leave me with some decent hop aroma.
I was aiming for a gravity of aroung 1040 – the boil was clearly more vigourous than my calculations expected, and I ended up with a slightly more concentrated wort at 1044; but that was close enough, and I didn’t bother adjusting.
In another change to save myself constantly checking to see if the wort was cool enough to pitch the yeast, I allowed it to cool off in the fermentation vessel overnight instead. The yeast in question was a switch to Nottingham yeast instead of the S-04 I’d previously used. 12 hours later I had that wonderful billowing foam on top of the most wonderfully hoppy smelling beer.
After a week in the fermenter, I transferred it into my pressure barrel and two weeks later, it went into bottles. After doing sums in my wonderful new calculator, it came out at 4.5% ABV – perfect, if rather higher than the designed 4%!
Enough with the process – how is the result?
It’s a nice, light amber colour in the glass; there’s a small but fleeting head on it – partly, I think, because I continue to under-prime my bottles. I will add this to the list of things to fix next time around.
The nose is properly beer-like; sweet, slightly caramel malt and underneath, a light fruitiness and even a slight hint of spice coming through from the Golding hops.
In the mouth it has a light, refreshing body. There’s plenty of sweetness up front, without being sticky or heavy in any way. As it sits on your tongue, again there’s a fresh summer fruit flavour, a hint of spice and then just a gentle bitter tail to round it off.
Perhaps surprisingly, it tastes pretty close to what I was aiming for – a light, sweet, easy drinking spring ale. Perfect for sipping as you work in the garden, I’m pretty proud of this one.