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)

Coming of AGe #3

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.

When Henry Ford told the good people of the US “any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants so long as it is black” they may have looked at each other for a moment before duly getting in line.  I don’t know much about Henry Ford but I’m assuming that the limitation of his showroom colour-card wasn’t based on his penchant for the macabre.  Simple economics dictated that his process needed a splash of realism.

When I built my first beer recipe, the recipe that will soon be in production, I sat at my desk, opened the gateway to global gallivanting and ran down the aisles using my arms in a sweeping motion to push the finery into my trolley.  It was so easy, I’ll have 5kg of that and 25kg of that, and so on.  I had Simcoe, Centennial, Columbus, Citra, Riwaka, Motueka, Galaxy, Special this and Belgian that, the whole shebang.  At the checkout a friendly face was masking a terrible truth: “good evening sir, I hope you enjoyed your retail experience, however these items are out of stock”.  As I repeatedly hit the mouse button “purchase now!, purchase now god damn it!”, the clerk calmly informed me that they were expecting a delivery in twelve months and that if I left my details they’d get in touch nearer the time.  I was then shown into a smaller room, packed with quality, quality I could afford and available off-the-shelf.  The names were familiar to me, but I’d never picked them for my team, instead opting for the kid wearing Puma Kings… sorry, where was I?…

Oh yes….there will be begging, stealing and/or borrowing.  I will get creative.  I will meet the guy around the back of the shop with my briefcase full of twenties.  Learning curves might be a nice shape, but try climbing one with one of your hands tied behind your back.

N.B. I’m aware that…

in the first years of production from 1908 to 1914, the Model T was not available in black but rather only grey, green, blue, and red. Green was available for the touring cars, town cars, coupes, and Landaulets. Grey was only available for the town cars, and red only for the touring cars. By 1912, all cars were being painted midnight blue with black fenders. It was only in 1914 that the “any color so long as it is black” policy was finally implemented. It is often stated that Ford suggested the use of black from 1914 to 1926 due to the cheap cost and durability of black paint. During the lifetime production of the Model T, over 30 different types of black paint were used on various parts of the car” – Wiki

…please don’t spoil my fun or poke holes in my weak analogy.  Thanks.

 *Follow @NMBCo (Northern Monk Brewing Company).

**All Grain (AG)

Coming of AGe #2

Last time on ‘Coming of AGe’:  I made a decision to brew commercially, I was in a reflective mood, I got my excuses in early.

 Starting a business doesn’t look to be an easy choice, regardless of the industry.  I’ve had ‘big ideas’ about starting my own brewing company and really believed I’d give it a shot “someday”.  Or, should I say, I’ve had ‘big ideas’ about starting my own brewing company and knew that despite my tall-talk I’d never realistically need to worry about proving myself as a business owner or a brewer.

To recap, I’m a homebrewer, I have no formal brewing qualifications, but have attended a three-year open university of life course in Alcohol Research.  I also have a growing collection of plastic buckets that have heating elements in them, plastic buckets that I want to put heating elements into, and a well-adjusted hoarding mentality: If it looks like it could be useful, put it in the garage.

Now I find myself in a dream-like-state, happy in the knowledge that I’m about to reach a goal, but daily realisations that I can’t wake myself up and that the ratebeer-daggers will soon be drawn.

When my friends and other interested folk ask me about the Northern Monk Brewing Co setup, I don’t have a straightforward answer for them.  You see, we have big plans and we have some faith in my brewing abilities and lots of faith in the owner’s business know-how, however our answer to the most common question; “so what size is your brewery” doesn’t satisfy everyone.

Buying a brewery and installing it into a suitable premises can cost a bit.  Not buying a brewery and not putting it in a premises can also cost a bit, and not just the initial investment.  Let me explain myself.

The options available to us (and others in our position):

  • Purchasing a brew kit and premises
  • Use someone else’s brew kit and premises
  • Email a recipe to a brewery and have them deal with it
  • Don’t do anything and enjoy brewing beer in your garage/kitchen for your own enjoyment

Speaking in the most basic terms:  if we were to purchase a brew kit and premises it would require investment from outside of our immediate influence.  If we ‘buy’ time on someone else’s brew kit we have to work under their terms and it isn’t that cheap either.  If we were to email a recipe to a brewery and ask them to handle it, we would both pack this in before it got started: that option just isn’t for us.  Despite the compromises we make when deciding on the best way forward, we know that we’ll be criticised to some extent.

Why not just purchasing a brew kit and premises?  We’re one of many start-ups in a competitive market and many of ‘us’ won’t survive the inevitable shake up after an industry booms, saturates and then discards what it no longer needs to satisfy demand.  A brew kit and a lease on a premises are risky assets to start-ups.  Also, can a start-up brewery be confident in making a significant investment when the returns cannot be guaranteed?  Most people need some level of income.

‘Cuckoo’ or ‘gypsy’ brewing is a broad church.  There is no recognised definition or boundaries as far as I can see.  Being a cuckoo brewer does not limit the output, the quality of the product or the perceived credibility of the brewer(s).  A cuckoo brewer may be a ‘small-batch’ brewer of ‘artisanal’ beers, beers that are furnished with reviews fit to burst with superaltives; or their output may be on a macro scale and those involved in the brewing company may not know their AAs from their elbow.  What I mean to say is, there is anecdotal evidence to suggest that not everyone involved with beer cares much for it, but they may like the smell of money.  I/we may not like it, but everyone is entitled to do it their way.

So you see the dilemma.  Mortgage yourselves to the hilt in an attempt to prove to the world that you’re serious about the vocation and the industry, accepting the financial risks that go with this, or mitigate some of those risks by renting kit time at an established brewery, accepting that there will be those people who dismiss your efforts as “in it for the short-term gains”.

The choices are there for anyone to explore, and it seems to me that one’s risk factors will vary depending on one’s bank balance (and other liabilities). 

It’s interesting for me to read my own thoughts, when more often than not they are fleeting ideas or worries with no real cohesion.  I can see that I am thinking about the criticisms before they’ve even happened, but what I can say is that it feels helpful to me to get these thoughts written, explore them and then move forwards in better shape for doing so.

I guess what I’m saying here, is that while future posts in this series will include the challenges of starting a brewing company, they won’t need to cover the same ground if I set the foundations early in the process/journey ….blah.

More on our decision once everything is in place.

*Follow @NMBCo (Northern Monk Brewing Company).

**All Grain (AG)

AG#27 Nebulous Cascadian Dark Ale

This is my brew for the bar at the Northern Craft Brewers event on Saturday 13th April.  I opted to brew a Cascadian Dark Ale.  The recipe is based on my AG#5 Nebulous Pitch Black Ale, this time with more of an effort with the dry hopping.

Original Gravity (OG): 1.048
Final Gravity (FG): 1.010
Alcohol (ABV): 5.1%
Colour (SRM): Dark (EBC): Dark
Bitterness (IBU): 64.8 (Average)

Mash 1:
0.500 kg  Black Malt (cold steeped with 2.5L liquor)

Mash 2:
3.800 kg (84%) Golden Promise Pale Malt
0.400 kg (9%) Caramalt
0.200 kg (4%) Munich
0.120 kg (3%) Pale Wheat Malt

15g Galena (12.0% Alpha) @60 minutes from the end (boil)
5g Simcoe (15.0% Alpha) @30 minutes from the end (Boil)
10g Simcoe (15.0% Alpha) @20 minutes from the end (Boil)
20g Simcoe (15.0% Alpha) @10 minutes from the end (Boil)
65g Simcoe (15.0% Alpha) @5 minutes from the end (Boil)
100g Centennial (11.0% Alpha) T90 pellets in secondary for 3 days (dry hop)

Water treatments: Campden tablet (HLT), 1 tsp gypsum (mash). My weighing scales aren’t great and I only need 3-4g, which is a tsp (approx). Same rule for the epsom salts in the boil.  I ordered some 0.1-100g scales last week so that once I’ve looked at my water treatment in a little more detail, I’ll be able to weigh the salts more accurately.

Strike temp of 77C, 11.0L liquor for 4.5kg grain. Mashed in at 68C, a degree higher than my target as my mash tun loses a bit of heat (single step infusion). Mashed for 60 minutes and temp dropped to 67.  Fly sparged at 84C for strike temp of 78C, 18.5L liquor (the 2.5L cold steeped liquor making up the total to 21L). The boil was scheduled for 60 minutes.  Galena added as the wort was coming to the boil, followed by additions of Simcoe at 30,  20, 10 and 5 minutes before the end of the boil.

I collected 23L of wort post boil with SG of 1.051, and added 2L cool boiled water  (liquoring back) to bring the OG to 1.048.  Pitched US-05 at 20C.

My only mistake of the day was calculating the IBU using the Simcoe AA% as 12.2 when it was supposed to be 15%.  No big deal, the average IBUs were 57 and will now be more like 65.  Also, having had a hydrometer emergency I had to rush oer to HopZine Rob’s house and borrow one.  I’ve since purchased two new saccharometers which I’ll be taking good care of.

Updated 21/03/13 – SG 1.026

Once I reach the target 1.010 I’ll transfer to secondary and dry hop with at least 100g of Centennial pellets.  My first attempt with pellets.  It’ll then be transferred to a bag-in-a-box from which it will be dispensed to the good folk at the Northern Craft Brewers meet.

Went with 4 day dry hop with 50g Centennial t90 pellets in primary.

Updated 30/03/13 ) Racked to a polypin today, gravity 1.010, primed with 12g sugar. Roll on the 13th April.