So after the crushing disappointment of my first brew, the bar was set fairly low for improvement.
After learning the lesson about fermentation temperatures, I was determined to avoid further potential yeast dormancy issues. So determined, in fact, that I inadvertently chose the middle of a heatwave to attempt my second brew!
However, forewarned is forearmed, and I went into this brew aware of all the potential temperature-based pitfalls. After doing some research on the potential impact to flavour (excessive fruity notes added by high esters generated by over-active yeast) and various homebrewers summer-temperature combating techniques (sit your fermenter in a bath of cool water / surround it with damp towels / blow a fan on it), I decided the best approach was to find a beer which wouldn’t suffer from additional fruity overtones.
Having long been a fan of ruby ales, mainly for their rich fruity taste, this seemed like an ideal time give one a go.
After browsing through various home brew shops online, I finally plumped for the St. Peters Ruby Red Ale kit. I’ve sunk a fair few bottles of their fine concoction in the past, so I had a good idea of how the final brew should taste.
(Although I don’t want to be a “brand slave” it helps when starting out to have a benchmark for what the final product should taste like. This certainly helps me to know whether what I’m doing is successful or not. Taste descriptions written by marketing departments are all very nice, but until you’ve had a successful brew, how do you know whether they ever tasted any good in the first place..?)
I’m still using the basic kit from the Coopers DIY Beer Kit
1 x 16oz Five Star Star San Sanitising Solution
The aforementioned St. Peters Ruby Red Ale Kit
Generic cane sugar bought from local convenience store for priming
As before I won’t go into great detail about the entire brewing process as this is fairly generic and can be researched in far more depth and accuracy elsewhere. Here instead are notes on this specific kit / brew that will hopefully help others and me in future…
The no-rinse Star San is a dream to use compared to the alternative. Also I used the bath this time instead of the kitchen sink. This has enabled me to sterilise pretty much all bottles at the same time, speeding the bottling process up greatly.
2. Cane Sugar
With the Coopers Kit, priming tablets were included. This time round I used generic table sugar from the shop, adding the correct amount (tables are available in How To Brew) of sugar to boiling water before priming the entire fermenter for even distribution.
The first couple of bottles have not been overly carbonated, which is not a huge problem for this beer, and may be due more to a slight excess of liquid in the original fermentation making the sugar content relatively lower.
3. Mineral Water
This time round I was a lot more careful with the water I used. Living in a block of flats, the water quality coming through our taps is not great, to the point where we see a noticeable difference when using a water filter.
For Brew#1 I used tap water, but this time I used 4 x 5 litre bottles of own-brand mineral water from the supermarket. These were relatively inexpensive (less than a quid each) and also reduce the difficulty in accurately measuring out 20+ litres of liquid.
For additional boiled water, I used filtered tap water in the kettle. At no point did I use straight tap water on this brew.
4. Original Gravity
I totally forgot to take the OG before adding the yeast. This means that I now have no idea what the ABV is. It tastes relatively low strength, but it’s impossibly to know.
One to remember for next time.
5. Rehydrated Yeast
For this brew I rehydrated the yeast before pitching rather than just sprinkling on the dry yeast powder.
It’s impossible to know whether it’s due solely to this, or to the higher temperatures, or any number of others factors (yeast age…? who knows…) or combination thereof, but the fermentation certainly kicked in far quicker and far more dramatically than for Brew#1.*
Either way I think that this is a Good Thing and will probably continue to rehydrate the yeast in future.
* It’s also worth noting that the primary fermentation appeared to finish after only a few days. Despite this the brew was kept in the fermenter for two weeks, but probably could have been bottled sooner. Am too inexperienced to know at this stage…
Despite the hot weather, I was able to keep the fermenter in a cupboard in the kitchen (a room which is slightly cooler in our flat due to being on the North-facing side of the property) which kept the temperature fairly steady at around 24 C.
I messed around for a few days with placing freezer packs on top of the fermenter, then got the fear that bacteria-containing condensed water may drip down the side and into the fermenting beer through Coopers’ innovative gas release mechanism and just left it to fend for itself instead. (There was no noticeable change in brew temp while using these so I figured the risk was higher than the benefit.)
24 C is the upper bound of “safe” brewing temperatures for ales, and initial tastings of the beer indicate that brewing at this temperature does not appear to have harmed the flavour in any way, although this could be due to the naturally fruity flavour of this type of ale.
After 2 weeks primary fermentation and 2 weeks conditioning in the bottle, the results are surprisingly good. (At least they are to me, after the first attempt…!)
As you’d expect from a ruby ale, the deep red colour is very evident, carbonation is light but noticeable, and the beer is slightly muddy after pouring but soon clears.
The taste is full and fruity, possibly more so than usual due to the fermentation temperature, but not unpleasantly so. The beer is light and easily drinkable, possibly a little on the watery side, but I think this may be due to me using a little too much water in the initial fermentation process. (I’ll err on the other side next time and see what happens.)
The overall effect is still that the beer is quite “young” – I intend to leave the remaining 40pts or so for another couple of weeks to see if the additional time helps the flavour develop (as well as for other reasons) – but there would be no problem in drinking the entire batch immediately if that was your aim.
Overall I’m very happy with the way this has turned out and will happily pick up one of these kits again – considering how easy the brewing process has been the results are superb.