Brew #3 – Ultimate Brewery Classics Oktoberfest

So – after success on Brew #2 where next for number three?

Well with October coming up, it only seemed right to put together some kind of Oktoberfest ale.

Not feeling brave enough to branch out into malt extract brewing just yet with only one successful kit brew under my belt, I had a good browse round the various online brew shops to find another kit and finally settled on the Ultimate Brewery Classics Oktoberfest Special Beer Kit.

By this point the brewing process was already starting to feel familiar. I ran through the sterilisations and rehydrated the dried yeast packet that came with the kit.

One note on the yeast rehydration: the bible suggests boiling water then allowing it to cool to around 35-40 degrees C before pouring in the dried yeast. I was short on time and growing impatient and – possibly worse – had no thermometer available to tell me the temperature of the water. Best guess, I added the yeast when the water was still around 70-80 deg C. I have no idea what this will do to the yeast or the flavour of the ale, only time will tell at this stage, however having just bottled the ale I can confirm that the gravity of the ale did drop to expected levels so I can’t imagine its activity has been too heavily compromised…

I boiled a couple of litres of purified tap water and mixed these with the pre-hopped malt extracts as per the kit’s instructions, topped up with bottled water to the 34 pint level, added the hop extracts and stirred vigorously to add as much oxygen as possible before pitching the rehydrated yeast. Then I stuck it in the kitchen cupboard for two weeks to ferment.

At the last minute I remembered to take the gravity reading – OG 1.045. Admittedly this was just after I’d pitched the yeast. I’m not sure how quickly this stuff works so will have to assume that the “real” OG is around here or maybe slightly higher…

During fermentation, a large amount of malt stuck to the side of the fermenter giving the whole thing a cloudy appearance. This worried me initially, particularly when I took my first gravity reading a week in and a large amount of malt extract came out with the ale. I was worried that the extract wouldn’t settle and I’d be left with lumpy beer – not a desireable outcome!

Fortunately, my subsequent gravity readings were a lot clearer and have settled my mind a little.

Another point to note was that the fermentation didn’t appear to start until about 24 hours after the mixing was complete. I was worried at first that the yeast may have been damaged by the high temperature of the rehydration, but a little patience restored my faith…!

A first for me this time was to taste the samples I’ve been taking to test the gravity. For the first couple of brews I’d just let it do it’s thing, but I realised this time that it’s just a food product and you can get a good idea of where the ale is going flavour-wise by tasting as you go. It’s been fun seeing how the flavour develops over time – this ale is definitely sweeter and already more full-flavoured than the St. Peter’s.

The ale was bottled yesterday after just over two weeks in the fermenter, with priming sugar solution added directly to the fermenter half an hour before bottling. I’ll test one bottle after a fortnight, but leave the majority for four weeks before drinking to reach “full” maturity. I’ll miss Oktoberfest by a few weeks, but at least I’ll still get to drink the beer!

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Brew#2 – St. Peters Ruby Red Ale Beer Kit

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..?)

Equipment

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

Brewing Notes

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…

1. Steriliser

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…

6. Temperatures

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.

Tasting notes

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.