Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Miss the Lights

Here at Weird Beard Brew Co we believe in good beer, and being as honest and transparent as possible. In this vein, we would like to introduce you to the second beer we ever brewed on the new brew house, and most likely the first to be released. But first a bit of background.

We have essentially been home brewers for the last couple of years, and have got to know our little 21 or so litre brewery set ups at home very well. We know that adding water to the mash at a certain 'strike' temperature will cool down to a usable temperature to mash at. We know how much sugar we will extract from the grain, and hence how much alcohol. We know how long it takes to cool our boiling wort (unfermented beer) to the right temperature to pitch the yeast at, and therefore how long our hops are in the beer extracting bitterness. We know how our yeast is going to react with our temperature controlled fermentation.

Now translate this up to a 10 barrel (around 1640 litre) brew house you have never used. Things do not work the same at all. You can do all you can, read literature, listen to podcasts or use brewing software to try and scale up a recipe, but until you have actually used the kit, and learned the kit, you will struggle.

We opted to brew a non core beer first time round. A simple beer that used just 2 types of grain and one single hop variety. This went pretty well, but until it was fermented out and conditioned, we couldn't really know exactly how the new brew house performs. We were not willing to wait that long, so within a couple of days, we went for a core beer.

We decided we wanted Hit the Lights to be the first beer released into the wild. The name alone made it a prime suspect, but we thought the beer would be a good example. This is a 5.8% ABV, 53IBU hop burst IPA. Hop burst means there are no early kettle hops, just loads added at 20 minutes before the end of boil, and then another huge charge of dry hops. This was our first issue. Hop oils help tame the bubbly mass that is produced at the top of the boil, and stops it boiling over. Put no hops in at the start of the boil means no control, resulting in a good proportion of the wort boiling over and escaping the kettle.

The idea of adding the hops at 20 minutes before the end of the boil is to give a softer bitterness, along with a healthy amount of taste and aroma. But the longer the hops are in contact with the hot wort, the more bitterness is extracted and more aroma oils are boiled off. After the boil is done we cool the wort down to 18 degrees C, which takes a lot longer to do for this amount of liquid. Also, in all the excitement someone, (Bryan) forgot to add the protofloc, which is a natural additive used to clarify beer, resulting in a slightly hazy product.

Unfortunately the temperature control of the fermenters had not been installed to a working standard. So one night, when the fermentation really took hold, the temperature ramped up a little higher than we wanted. This can introduce some unwanted flavours if you are not careful. One way around this is to put a little pressure on the fermenter, so we sealed up the air outlet to allow the pressure to build. This helped alot, but created its own little problem when it came to dry hopping. By sealing the air outlet, the beer had carbonated a little, so adding the hop pellets just created loads of nucleation points for the CO2, think minto in a fizzy drink bottle. This resulted in Gregg, who was doing the dry hopping being attacked by a huge amount of foamy beer spraying out of a small opening at the top of the fermenter, and just missing the ceiling and the lights. Unfortunately no one was quick enough with a camera for this.

All of this resulted in a beer that was not what was intended. This is a much more bitter beer, with a slightly different character than what we were shooting for. We debated putting it down the drain, but decided we really quite enjoyed it. So we have packaged it, 12 casks, 15 key kegs, and around 750 500ml bottles, and will sell it as a one off special beer.

When it come to naming the beer there was no competition. This beer had tried to escape and hit the ceiling twice. It was meant to be called Hit the Lights, but missed the target. So we had no choice but to call it Miss the Lights. Look out for it over the coming months and let us know what you think.

This now means the Hit the Lights brew has been pushed back. But hopefully we can get this brewed in a few months time, just in time for the summer.


  1. I blame Evin for the beer gushing scenario, as he told me about the pressure trick, but can't grump too much as he may have saved the whole batch. Wish I was videoing it.

  2. Let us know where we can find the "Miss the Lights" casks and key kegs! Crazy question from a chemist (who brewed one small batch of homebrew years ago - i.e., very close to zero brewing credentials): does anyone use a cooled reflux condenser to keep those (potentially delicious) volatiles from evaporating?

  3. Hi Thomas

    We will tweet about where our beers are going to so keep tuned.

    The trouble with a reflux condenser is that there are certain volatiles that you want to remove during the boil. DMS precursors etc so unless you have some kind of fractional condensation that would allow you to select the good and dump the bad this may not be a great idea.