My BIAB Bubble Burst

I was looking to simplify my brewday and my outlook on homebrewing.  Things got a bit ahead of me in 2013 and I soon found myself in over my head.  My solution was to give BIAB (Brew in a Bag) brewing a whirl.  BIAB promised to reduce the length of a brewday by a couple of hours as well as allowing me to brew at short notice – no more scrabbling around in the roof to find my kit – just one stock pot and the stove. 

I got off to a positive start and brewed a couple of SMASH (Single Malt and Single Hop) beers, the first using Amarillo and the second with Apollo*.  Despite BIAB being the supposed answer to ALL of my problems, I soon realised that All Grain / Full Mash brewing wasn’t really the issue at all, it was more a case of me allowing beer – in general – to muscle its way to the top of my priorities list.  The problem with this – for me personally – is that even when I managed to brew, it was usually at the expense of time spent doing more important things.  The result of this was that the enjoyment I used to get from homebrewing soon faded.  So, what’s changed? and why do I think that brewing at home will be different this time? I don’t know that it will be different, but I’ve drastically reduced the number of evenings spent in the pub; attending other beery events – of which there were many – and partaking in less casual drinking on the sofa, all mean that I can set some time aside that doesn’t need to be a rush job, or spoilt by the guilt from knowing that I should be probably be somewhere else.

BIAB#3 or AG#30, it doesn’t really matter which, but my next brewday will be soon, and I’m looking forward to it, and getting back to blogging.

Happy new year!  

* Both BIAB brews turned out ok, pretty thin in body, despite a high mash temp, something I will work on next.  I think both beers will be perfectly acceptable lawnmower beers come the summer months.

BIAB#2 Apollo Pale Ale

Following up from my first BIAB (Brew in a bag), I thought it would be interesting to brew a series of SMASH (single malt single hop) beers.  My first post talks you through the process – if you’re interested.

Original Gravity (OG): 1.040
Final Gravity (FG): 1.010
Alcohol (ABV): 4.0%
Colour: Pale
Bitterness (IBU): 45ish

2.500 kg  Golden Promise Pale Malt

9g Apollo (19.5% Alpha) @60 minutes from the end (Boil)
50g Apollo (19.5% Alpha) @0 minutes from the end (Boil)

Same volumes and temperatures as the first brew (or as near as possible). 6.25L of mash liquor with roughly a quarter of a Campden tablet.  80C strike temperature (to achieve a mash temp of somewhere around 70C).  Sparged with 7.00L liquor at 78C strike temp.

60 minute addition (20g) Apollo hops.  At 15 minutes from the end of the boil I added quarter of protofloc tablet and the Immersion Chiller.  At 0 minutes (flame out / hob off) I added my second addition of Apollo hops (50g) and turned IC on.

I collected 9L of 1.045 wort and pitched half packet of US05 yeast at 19C.  BIAB#1 stopped at 1.025 with half a packet.

Next brew will be same again, different hop.

Brewing. Art. Science. Life.

It’s only an interpretation of a snapshot in time, however there is a sense that what we have in our pint glass is not enough, that in some way it needs to be embellished.  Most TV licence payers or social media voyeurs will be blissfully unaware of the cracks that are appearing in the landscape, and how what lies beneath could be destructive, or could create new land on which to prosper.  

Clarity is rarely gained without a struggle – without the necessary process of debate, experimentation and often a generous slice of luck – and when something is worth shouting about, fill your lungs, exhale the words that seem important at that time and see where they land. 

“How you package beer, where you present it, who you present it to – can tell a story, you can educate, you can get people to take an interest in more that just the beer” – Andrew Skene

From recent discussions I’ve witnessed, proposals received, amateur productions watched through my fingers, and from the emergence of glossy campaigns – there is no doubt in my mind that TV producers smell the next 24hrs in a Brewery, 60 Minute Mash-Over, Grist Force or Breweries Under the Hammer (crap examples, I know – better ones here from Boak & Bailey).  What is certain to me, is this will unravel, and some of us will froth more profusely at our mouths than others. 

My thoughts on this.  We shouldn’t lose sight of what we’re talking about here.  It’s beer.  It represents so much more than the next opportunity.  It will remain intact through this storm of interest and continue for centuries more.  The link below is to a short film I was fortunate enough to see yesterday.  A film produced and directed by Paul Bates, with words from Andrew Skene – Head Brewer – Dominion Brewery.  

“Brewing is a true art.  It’s a wonderful mix of art and science, and using the scientific principles that underline it you can create works of expression – that are part of you – they come out of you – they can express part of your thinking.  They’re also ephemeral – they’re only here today and they’re gone tomorrow, so enjoy them while you can…. I guess that can tell you something about life as well…”  –  Andrew Skene

“It [brewing] is a very very good mix of being creative, you do stuff with your hands, you use your brain, you use a bit of science, you use a bit of art…” – Andrew Skene

BIAB#1 Amarillo Pale Ale

It’s been a little while since I’ve brewed at home, but recently bought a 10L BIAB (Brew in a bag) kit, or what has been dubbed – the stove top pilot kit.   I bought it online from Massive Brewery for a mere £100 and you can check the site out to see what you get for your money, or tweet Steve @MassiveBrewery

Original Gravity (OG): 1.040
Final Gravity (FG): 1.010
Alcohol (ABV): 4.0%
Colour: Pale
Bitterness (IBU): 40ish

2.500 kg  Golden Promise Pale Malt

20g Amarillo (8.7% Alpha) @60 minutes from the end (Boil)
50g Amarillo (8.7% Alpha) @0 minutes from the end (Boil)

If you’re not familiar with BIAB brewing, then in summary, you have one vessel (in this case an 11L stock pot), a bag or two for your grain, and a bag or two for your hops.  The bags keep your brewing liquor and your barley and hops apart, and is essential when you come to transferring to your FV, as there is no hop stopper or tap on this kit.

For anyone who is thinking of trying this, I’ll describe what the brewday entails.  There’s nothing complicated to do, and I tried to be laid back about temperatures etc.  I used the Massive Brewery Excel spreadsheet to calculate the volumes and temperatures for the mash and sparge liquor and treat the 6.25L of mash liquor with roughly a quarter of a Campden tablet.  I used a combination of kettle and warm tap water to get an 80C strike temperature (to achieve a mash temp of somewhere around 70C), then put the two grain bags and the 6.25L into the pot, gave the grain a good stir in each bag to make sure there were no dry spots, then hung the grain bags over the side of the pot, put the lid on and left it for 60 minutes.  Towards the end of the 60 minute mash, I boiled a couple of kettles of water and added them to a large pan (not part of the kit) and added tap water to hit 80C, and in preparation for the sparging. 

To sparge – I lifted each grain bag out in turn and squeezing as much of the wort from the bags and into the stock pot (turning the hob on at this point to start bringing it towards the boil – just as a bit of a time saver).  Then using the plastic fermentation bucket (part of the kit) and a large colander (not part of the kit) I poured the sparge liquor from the additional pan, through the grain bags, each in turn.  I let them sit a while, give the grain a stir and then transferred the wort from the fermentation bucket into the stock pot, squeezing the bags again to get as much wort (sugars) as possible. 

Once the wort in the stock pot reached boiling point I added a 60 minute addition (20g) Amarillo hops.  At 15 minutes from the end of the boil I added quarter of protofloc tablet and the Immersion Chiller (part of the kit).  At 0 minutes (flame out / hob off) I added my second addition of Amarillo hops (50g) and turned the chiller on.  It was


I collected 9L of 1.045 wort and pitched half a packet of US05 yeast at 19C.  After 3 days it was down to 1.025 and tasting/smelling great.

I’m impressed with the kit.  It’s basic, but it gives you exactly what you need to brew a beer in about 4 hours, which is a big plus for me at the moment. 

Also included in the kit price, but not shown in the photo: Digital thermometer, hydrometer, bottle capper, crown caps and ingredients for your first beer.  You may need to borrow the odd item from your kitchen, but other than that, the only things you’ll need to buy are some sanitiser and some protofloc (copper finings).

Coming of AGe #6

So far on ‘Coming of AGe’:  I made a decision to brew commercially, I was in a reflective mood, I got my excuses in early.  I learnt that buying a brewery and installing it into a suitable premises can cost a bit and that buying ingredients can be a case of I want never gets, but trying never hurts.

We’ve had a busy few weeks and the notable news is that we’ll be brewing a beer with Weird Beard Brew Co in June (more on that soon), and that we’ve decided on temporarily housing ourselves with North Yorkshire outfit Hambleton Ales.  Having traded many emails and met on several occasions, including a good look at the kit, we are now looking forward to getting involved and finally brewing our first beer.  When you consider that our first beer will be realised early in July, the speed at which Northern Monk Brew Co. has progressed has been a surprise to me and to my usual safe and steady approach to brewing – Learning point:  you can’t control all of the risks, all of the time.  It may seem obvious to say so, but decisions need to be taken and commitment is needed to steer a new business in a coherent direction. 

When I consider the first meetings we had, sat in a local pub, cooing over branding and deliberating the essentials; such as when we’d take our first road-trip down the West Coast of North America, the last two months have certainly focused our minds.  As I’ve already written in my previous posts, the challenges are numerous, (and in no particular order), choosing a host, licensing, duty registration, recipe formulation, sourcing ingredients, methods of dispense, deciding on a core range, storage, worrying about who we’ll sell to, how we’ll distribute it, budget constraints, investment temptations, deciding on what to Tweet…ok the last one isn’t so much of a challenge, but hopefully you get a feel for what I’m saying.
We feel as though our chosen approach to brewing, as cuckoo brewers, will (and should) be debated.  Some will whisper in dark corners “…dirty contract brewers…”, some will draw from better-known Scandinavian reference points “…they’re ‘gypsy’ brewers ya know!…”, but we simply see ourselves as nomadic, for now. We’ve thought about all of this, perhaps a bit too much, and we’re shifting our energy to concentrating on the things we can control.  A brewing kit is only half of the story, the beer will be 100% NMBCo, no compromises.  Our aim is to be the heart and soul of the beer we brew – it’s our recipe and I’ll be brewing it.   In summary, we’re two lads from Yorkshire, giddy with enthusiasm and resolute in achieving beer that we’re proud of.
Until brewday #1 is done, the beer safely fermented, transferred to its temporary housing before reaching some willing taste buds, we won’t know if we’ve overcome all of these challenges.  We accept that we won’t necessarily ‘nail it’ at the first attempt, but like many other proud brewers before us, we’ll get there.

  *Follow @NMBCo (Northern Monk Brewing Company).

**All Grain (AG)

I’m no longer with NMBCo.  Read about it here

Coming of AGe #5

So far on ‘Coming of AGe’:  I made a decision to brew commercially, I was in a reflective mood, I got my excuses in early.  I learnt that buying a brewery and installing it into a suitable premises can cost a bit and that buying ingredients can be a case of I want never gets, but trying never hurtsNext up I formulated a basic game plan.

How soon is too soon to buy a pair of Puroforts? 


How long do I have to brew for before I can buy orange ones?

*Follow @NMBCo (Northern Monk Brewing Company).

**All Grain (AG)

Coming of AGe #4

So far on ‘Coming of AGe’:  I made a decision to brew commercially, I was in a reflective mood, I got my excuses in early.  I learnt that buying a brewery and installing it into a suitable premises can cost a bit and that buying ingredients can be a case of I want never gets, but trying never hurts.

Rules suck, but for someone like me they’re important.  I read this week that craft is no longer creative, and don’t worry I’m not going there, the article was exploring all things craft.  I consider myself to be a creative person, but as a 35-year-old with a steadyish job, this is an indication that my free-thinking gene never really kicked-in.  I listen carefully to what others have to say, generally agree with them and then try my best not to copy.  I’m also musical [no not me, I play Brass], I brew beer and have the ability to craft [almost] any shape necessary to win a game of that relatively unknown Pictionary spin-off where you use scissors to create the clues.  What I’m saying is that I’ve never felt the need, nor had the drive to conquer the world.  When it comes to brewing beer that will be sold, I’m applying the same tentative approach.

Stuart Howe, a man needing little introduction to anyone who has a vague interest in beer, wrote a blog [still does] about his thoughts and experiences as an already seasoned brewer with Sharps Brewery [still is].  His opening post read:

“This is it. The first post in my new blog. I’ve got to be up in five hours so it’s a quick one. I am embarking on an exciting journey in which my very soul will be open for all to browse”.

I’m not trying to make any comparison where there isn’t one: not even the faintest skid-mark of resemblance in what he’s achieved and what I have yet to achieve, no.  However, my sentiment is the same as his, writing this stuff down is a personal thing, but we both decided to put it on the equivalent of the Britain’s Got Talent stage. 

So what do I want to achieve?  I want to support my family and I want to do that by getting paid to do the thing that interests and excites me: brewing beer.   How I go about doing that is also important to me and I need a game plan.  Over to Stuart:

“The apparent conflict between idiosyncrasy and balance brings me to the question which I ask myself today. Am I trying to get a number one single or win the Turner Prize? Does there need to be a compromise?”

As a brewer just starting out I want to brew decent, tasty beer.  I want the beer to be good enough to allow us to brew a second beer and so on.  Don’t get me wrong, I want to do the best I can, but I’m not aspiring for a number one single.  Not yet!

This time last year, I was sat at the European Beer Bloggers Conference, listening to people like Stuart, Mark Dredge, Leigh Linley, some other dude banging on about hops, and Zak Avery who said (and I paraphrase) “…enjoy writing what you write, use your blog to catalogue your thoughts and think of this as being prepared to maximise any opportunities that may come your way“.  Stuart tried one of my beers that day, another blogger shared a bottle of mine with him, which I’m sure he won’t remember, but it made me want to go and brew that bit more.  Since that time, both Mark and Leigh have a book published and Zak has another tank top, among other more notable achievements.  And me? I’m still dreaming, but I’m close to where I want to start.

  *Follow @NMBCo (Northern Monk Brewing Company).

**All Grain (AG)