Much ado about hopping

I brewed another beer on Friday night, it’s the beer I will enter in the Revolutions Brewing Co. competition. After reading an interesting post by Zak Avery, it got me thinking about brewing in general.  Having made two mistakes in my last two brews, it’s dawning on me that while I am undoubtedly brewing beer, I have some way to go before I will be comfortable calling myself a brewer, but there really is no other term? (Glorified Brew Monkey perhaps?).  Stick the word ‘home’ before it and the disclaimer is there for all to see.  Much like a green L plate.  I’m legal to brew, but don’t get too close as you might get burnt.  I’m not too hard on myself though, and to coin a phrase from a friends blog on parenting, these early days of homebrewing are merely “mistake-based learning“.

Zak makes the point that there is a marked difference between those who design a recipe and brew the beer, to those who also understand the intricacies of which ingredients marry together, how to control the variables in your process and what makes your brewing equipment tick.  I found this revelation smacking me about the face when my brother-in-law joined me for my last two brewnights.  He witnessed me brewing beer and he now knows which order the brewing vessels are intended to be used and has tasted the resulting beer.  However, and credit to Ben, he asked questions which  I struggled to answer and the experience made me realise that I should really make an effort to find the answers.   I think the same applies for a novice in the kitchen.  When cooking or baking I can happily follow a recipe and set of instructions, providing that they are accurate and well written.  Translating the words into something edible is complex, especially if there is no image of what it is you are supposed to create.  You will always get something on your plate at the end, but is it a good reflection of what you set out to achieve?

One should double-check one’s measurements for accuracy before cutting a piece of wood; otherwise it may be necessary to cut again, wasting time and material

The Revolutions Brewing Co. competition is straightforward.  Brew a 4.5% beer of your choice using European hops.  I brewed a 4.5% Porter using Galena and First Gold hops.  It took a few weeks to click, but when it did I put my face in my hands and made a sound that would confuse Lassie into thinking I was stuck down a well.  Read the instructions and read them again… much like a joiner should measure twice, cut once.  Galena hops are American – I rest my case your honour.  After venting my frustration, my thought process was fast and clumsy, but I concluded that I could not lie, I must brew another beer if I was to be a part of the competition.

Don’t wing it on the day.

Attempt number 2:  Having reacted as quickly as I could, I ordered some more malt (thanks to @BGRTRob) and brewed a 4.5% Pale Ale on Friday gone.  I used the hops from my freezer and a combination I know works well, Challenger and Bobek (Styrian Goldings).  Having decided to start taking things a little more seriously, I also downloaded some software to help me start to document (catalogue) my brews and also to assist me in calculating temperatures and losses based on my choice of ingredients.  I have been doing this, but based loosely on things I’ve read in forums.  Strike temperature and hop utilisation are areas I am trying my damndest to appreciate.  Long story short, the software was great, much the same kind of thing I had been using, but now all in one place and with the added bonus of printable brewday sheets (and a record to refer to should I need it).  But here’s the thing, I half-read my instructions yet again (Measure twice, cut once).  Despite the truth being written down and there in front of me, my strike temp was 6C too hot (I had in mind 78C from a previous brew – whereas this one onlu called for 72C), I mashed for 90 minutes and boiled for 90 minutes.  The recipe sheet was based on 60 minute mash and 60 minute boil.  This affects the extraction from the malts and from the hops.  Not only did I boil for 30 minutes too long, I also decided to alter the hop additions.  Having read briefly around the subject of hop utilisation, I decided that as the hops were quite old and probably way past their best, that I would add what I had available to me for the bittering (roughly double what the recipe called for).  I don’t want to get too hung up on hop utilisation and know that I can’t measure it properly anyway, but I do know it’s possible to brew an unbalanced beer, for example a mouth-puckeringly bitter 4.5% beer.  Some will disagree, but as a general rule I don’t think that thinnish beer can handle hop heavyness.

Despite these hiccups, my quest to gleen mistake-based-brewing-knowledge continues undeterred.

Relax Don’t Worry, Have a Home Brew – Charlie Papazian

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7 thoughts on “Much ado about hopping

  1. Good to see another Brewmate user, I like its compromise between features and ease of editing. That its free doesn’t hurt either.

    I think I did the opposite to you with my first Revolutions entry. I used (relatively) low alpha UK bittering hops from the 2011 harvest and underestimated their potency. When funds allow I think i’ll send some bottles off to Brewlab for analysis and see if I can dial in my efficiencies a bit.

    • I did wonder if anyone else at the Leeds group used it…BeerSmith seems to be the choice for a few. I was looking for functional and free 😉

      Interesting, so did you not know the exact AA% of the hops? or was it just the first time you had used this hop variety? I didn’t realise Brewlab did that, but may do the same once I’m happy with what I’m doing. Cheers.

  2. Useful post, for someone like me who is just starting out homebrewing and is way behind you in the learning stakes! It’s a scary business, but hopefully a few years down the line will be rewarding if I can move up the scale a bit to brew beer that I consider ‘lovely’ rather than at present “wow, it’s actually drinkable!”

    • Thanks Tania….glad it’s of some use. I’m new to brewing too and am justing starting the time to brew regularly. It’s helping me get to grips with the basics of a brewday and I think my beers are improving bit by bit (although I’m not sure the last two will be great). Good luck with the brewing and I’m sure you’ll be brewing ‘lovely’ beer before you know it!

  3. Its just about always been easy, a few hiccups but nothing that stopped me making beer 🙂 Every brew is a new experiment, so as such, if its not exactly what I wanted I’m generally pretty happy anyway.

    • Well get you! …joking aside, you make a good point that viewing homebrewing as experimental makes things a little more enjoyable. Also, brewing 70+ beers will help with that too 😉

  4. Nice post, being new to brewing, I’ve had a lot of, ‘ah crap,’ moments myself.

    Have you tried this: http://beercalculus.hopville.com/ ? It’s free and web based, so you can input things anywhere (like, at work). I’m not sure about your software, but this has a handy graph that shows you where your malt/bitter ratio will end up (theoretically at least).

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