British Brewer

Recreating the perfect British Pint

02 May
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Malt: Part II – Measuring Diastatic Power

English Marris Otter

In the first post of the series on Malt we reviewed the different categories of malt and the enzymes that convert the starches into fermentable sugars.  In this post we will review how to measure the effectiveness of the conversion.  To do this we need to understand the “diastatic power” (DP) of malt. The DP measures the amount of diastase (another name for Alpha Amylase), enzyme present in the grain.  In general, the hotter a grain is kilned, the less its diastatic activity.

The DP of malt is measured in degrees Lintner (°Lintner or °L, which is the same symbol used for Lovibond, which measures colour).  JECFA, the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives, defines degrees Lintner as follows:

A malt has a diastatic power of 100 °L if 0.1 cc of a clear 5% infusion of the malt, acting on 100cc of a 2% starch solution at 20°C for one hour, produces sufficient reducing sugars to reduce completely 5cc of Fehling’s solution.

The calculation of °L for a type of grain is typically done by the manufacturer and not by the homebrewer. As a rule of thumb though the total grain bill of a mash should have a DP of at least 40 °L in order to guarantee efficient conversion of all the starches in the mash to sugars.

British Pale malts tend to be in the 35-40 °L range and therefor only have enough DP to convert its own starches and none of the Specialty Malts. This would explain the heavy use of Crystal Specialty Malt which has no enzymes and introduces only unfermentable sugars to the wort.  European Malts have a DP of 100 °L and American Malts range from 125 to 160 °L and are capable of converting both its own starches and that of other grains in the malt bill.  This explains why many American brews use specialty malts which contain starches but no enzymes, such as Brown and Chocolate Malt due to higher kilning temperatures. American 6-row malts have DP’s over 160 °L.

So when building an all grain recipe consider carefully the malt bill and the DP of the malt used. If you use Specialty Malts which contain starches and wish to convert them remember to us a base malt with a higher DP such as American 2 or 6-row,

Now we understand how malt converts starches to fermentable sugars we can move on to calculate how much malt we need to make a recipes target Specific Gravity.

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21 April
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Malt: Part I – Base Malts vs Speciality Malts

English Marris Otter (2_Row Barley)

I have been working on getting my malt post together for what seems like an eternity. I have been finding blogging a difficult task with my work and family commitments.  I managed to get out of work at a reasonable hour this evening and decided I would work on getting my first Malt post out the door.

Over this series we are going to focus on the characteristics of malt, how it works, how to calculate the OG of the wort and then switch to looking at specialty malts and how they add flavour, colour, head, and improve mouthfeel.  But first I thought we should answer a very basic question.  What is the base malt, what is specialty malt and what is the difference between them?

First up what do they have in common – they are both barley.  Base malts impart colour, some flavour and supply the fermentable sugars.  Speciality malts provide little to none of the sugars but have a big impact to the colour and flavour.  First lets remind ourselves of the malting process first covered in my getting started post.  Malt is the product of soaking grains in water until they begin to germinate. The grains are then heated to halt the germination process.  This 2-stage “malting” process causes the grains to produce essential enzymes required to modify the grain starch into sugars and enable the yeast to do its job.

Base Malts
Base malts make up the bulk of the a batch and are typically derived from one of 2 types of barley, either 2-Row or 6-Row.  Base malts are created by drying the barley at a sufficiently low temperature to preserve enzymes (alpha and beta amylase) which convert starch into sugar (the same enzymes in saliva that make peanut butter and sour cream separate). It is these enzymes that are critical to the brewing process.  Without them the grain starch would not get converted to fermentable sugars. The sugars can be extracted from the barley’s own starches simply by soaking the grain in water at a controlled temperature in a process called mashing.

The most common form of base malt is Pale Malt, typically lite in colour and neutral malt flavour.  Another type of malt with high enzyme levels is Mild Malt, kilned at slightly higher temperatures to produce a nutty flavour. Other base malts include Vienna, Pilsener and Munich.

Specialty Malts
Specialty malts have no enzymes and therefor little to no diastatic power (ability to convert starch into sugars). These types of malt make up a smaller quantity of the grist but have a significant impact on the colour and flavour of an ale.  Most specialty malts are pale malts that have been kilned at higher temperatures and in doing so impart darker colours and roasted flavours.  The higher kilning temperatures do not preserve the enzymes. Typical specialty malts include Chocolate Malt, Black Malt and Brown Malt.

A special type of malt used a great deal in British Ales is Crystal malt.  Crystal malts are high-nitrogen malts which are soaked in water and roasted before kilning. They produce overly sweet toffee-like flavours and the sugars are sufficiently converted that they can be steeped without mashing to extract their flavor. Crystal malts are available in a range of colours, with darker-coloured malts kilned at higher temperatures, producing stronger, more caramel-like overtones. Some of the sugars in crystal malts caramelize during kilning and become unfermentable adding a sweetness to a beer.

So far the recipes we have covered have all been extract brews where the base malts are replaced with liquid or dried malt extracts.  The sugars have already been extracted and all we have to do is steep the specialty malts to extract flavour and colour.  But here is the twist and a major difference between extract and all-grain brewing.  With the exception of Crystal malts, which have no fermentable sugars remaining, other specialty malts such as the Chocolate, Brown and Dark malts may have no enzymes present BUT THEY ARE STILL LOADED WITH STARCHES.  So when an all-grain brewer adds his specialty grains to his grist there are enough enzymes present in the base malt to convert the specialty grains starches also.  I am very ready to retry some of my favorite recipes as all-grain to see the impact the mashing process has on the specialty grains.

There is a process called mini-mashing which adds a smaller, more manageable, amount of base malt to the specialty malt to convert the starches and then adding malt extract to the boil to get the OG gravity to where it needs to be.  In my humble opinion if I am going to go all-grain I am going all in.

Next up we will review how to use the diastatic level of the malt bill to predict the OG of the wort.

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27 November
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Recipe: Kentish Best Bitter

(feedback on original recipe here)

Time to get started on the first recipe.  Almost all of my recipes will follow the process outlined in my last post here.  I will also be adding all my recipes to my account on Hopville.com. Hopville is a great free online tool to create and manage your recipes and share with a community of other homebrewers.  They have an excellent brewing calculator that dynamically calculates a recipes gravity, strength, colour, and bitterness as you add various ingredients and alter quantities.

The first recipe is a staple of British Ales, the Best Bitter.  A pint of Best drawn fresh from a pub at the end of the day is one of the reasons I miss home. It is a time spent with friends and family relaxing after a hard days work.  One of the Best Bitter’s primary qualities is its drink-ability, not too bitter, but enough hops to be refreshing. Smooth going down thanks to the healthy quantity of English 2-Row barley or Marris Otter malt.

The recipe I use is based heavily from a kit from Northern Brewer.  I found the original recipe to be overly hopped for a pint of Best but I liked the use of traditional English Fuggle Hops. I also replaced the Simpson’s Dark Crystal with a lighter English Crystal purely for colour and taste.

Malt: If this was an all grain brew the recipe would require over 7lbs of English Marris Otter barley malt.  As we are making extract recipes we will be substituting with 3 lbs of Light DME and 1 lb of Amber DME for the colour.

Specialty Grains: To give the ale its copper colour we will add a little Pale Chocolate Malt, not too much or the ale will become too dark and will over power with malt what is traditionally a more bitter ale.  Pale chocolate malt has a unique toasted flavour and is one of the easiest ways to add rich, toasty malt flavour to an ale.  It is used in preference to chocolate malt when less colour from the grains is desired and a grain with milder flavours is needed.

The second specialty grain is an English 80L Crystal Malt.  The “L” stands for degrees Lovibond, the scale by which the colour of beer is measured. The higher the number the darker the beer.  Crystal Malt is a form caramelized malt resulting from a modified malting process where the malt is kilned at relatively high temperatures while they are still moist. This results in more of a stewing than roasting or toasting, causing the starches to prematurely convert to sugars and then caramelized.  English 80L Crystal Malt will add a deep amber color and a strong, toffee/sweet flavour.  We are using a relatively small amount so these flavours will not overpower the final ale. (NOTE: Even though malts are still measured in Lovibond most beers are now compared to the Standard Reference Model (SRM) scale which is essentially the same.  We will be using SRM on this blog)

Hops: We are using a single hop variety for this recipe and he one with perhaps the silliest name, the Fuggle Hop. It is rumored to be named after Richard Fuggle of Kent on the SE coast of England in 1861 (hence the name Kentish Best), though this has been questioned by some serious hop scholars.  Fuggles are not typically used as a bittering hop given the low alpha acid range of between 3.5-6% (a bitter hop can have an alpha of over 15%). We will be using a healthy dose of the hop at the top of the boil giving us a not too bitter bitter.  As this is a single hop recipe we will also be using Fuggles as the aroma and flavour hops imparting a pleasant earthy woody character it is famous for and found in so many British Ales.

Yeast: There are so many different strains of yeast we could use for this project.  Northern Brewer selected Wyeast London ESB Ale.  This yeast strain tends to give a beer more of a fruity flavor which balances nicely with the earthy aroma of the Fuggles Hops.  Flocculation levels are also high (this means it forms larger flakes of yeast, attracting proteins also which would otherwise be suspended). These flakes will fall to the bottom leaving very little suspended matter in the ale, leading to very clear ales suitable for casks and kegs (don’t want to clog the lines with crud). I saw no reason to change and its worked for me every time.

Other Additions: We will be using Irish Moss to help clarify the beer and some corn sugar to give the beer a little more strength to get the OG calculation into the recommended BJCP guidelines for Best Bitter without altering the aroma or flavour.

Kentish Best Bitter (BJCP Beer Style: Special/Best/Premium Bitter, category: English Pale Ale)

  • 5 Gallon, 60 min boil
  • OG 1047, FG 1012
  • 4.3% ABV
  • 33.4 IBU
  • 11° SRM
  • Ready to drink in 5-6 weeks

Base Malt and Fermentables:

  • 3 lbs Light Dry Malt Extract (60 mins)
  • 1lbs Amber Dry Malt Extract (60 mins)

Specialty Grains:

  • 8oz English Crystal 80L
  • 2oz Pale Chocolate Malt

Hops

  • Bittering Hop – 2oz English Fuggle (60 mins)
  • Flavour Hop – 1/2 oz English Fuggle (15 mins)
  • Aroma Hop – 1/2 oz English Fuggle (5 mins)

Other Additions

  • 1 tsp Irish Moss (30 mins)
  • 1lb Corn Sugar (after boil is complete)

Process

  • Please follow the process guidelines outlined in my post here.  You will require all the equipment specified here.
  • Primary Fermentation: 5-7 days at 65-75°
  • Secondary Fermentation: 2 weeks at 55° (if you can otherwise just 5-7 days in the same location as the primary)
  • Prime and store in the bottle for at least 2 weeks before consuming
  • Peak flavour will be reached after 4 weeks in the bottle

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26 November
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Getting Started Pt 3 – Brewing Day

Before we begin with brewing day (and I am actually writing this while I am brewing a batch of British Best Bitter), I wanted to share 3 basic rules I have come to live by with homebrew.

1) CLEANLINESS – It is important to use clean equipment throughout the brewing process from the boil to the fermentation to the bottling or kegging. I find some books and suppliers go a little over the top asking you to essentially nuke everything with strong chemicals and detergents. In my experience dish soap and REALLY hot water work just fine. Clean all the equipment and keep in a cool dry place.

2) TEMPERATURE – Always follow the recipe with regards to temperature. Too hot can cause yeast not to ferment and other bacterias to grow (bad), too cold and the yeast sleeps (very bad). Too hot and the sugars will not get extracted from the malt or other unwanted enzymes will get extracted also. You will need a room where the temperature is relatively constant around 65-70F in order to ferment and condition ale. Some ales and lagers require a cold fermentation or conditioning phase so a fridge with a thermostat may also be required for these recipes.

3) PATIENCE – Don’t rush the process, fermentation takes time, conditioning takes time. Follow the recommended durations specified in a recipe until a bottle is opened. The beer will taste amazing if you do. I have seen some brewers suck down cloudy unsettled beer, its disturbing (you know who you are).

Brewing Day Equipment

Brewing Day Equipment

Additional Requirements – a stove capable of holding a 5 gallon kettle, a large measuring jug, a large clean wooden or plastic spoon, a patient loving wife, and kids that don’t mind the wonderful aromas of boiling beer wort.

WARNING not everyone will share the passion for the wonderful aromas boiling malt and hops will bring to your household. If you do not have a stove or have been banished to the garden shed you will also require an outdoor stove and full bottle of propane.

Time – You will need at least 2 hours to complete the following steps. Pictures included in this post were taken today (11/25) while I brewed my Best Bitter on my 3G iPhone.

Step 1: Preparing the yeast – If you are using dried yeast it is a good idea to give the yeast a little head-start by getting it frisky and reproducing. Simply dissolve a small amount of sugar or DME in some warm tap water (approx 70F) and add the dried yeast. Do this before you start the brew so the yeast has at least 1 1/2 hours to work its magic. If you are using liquid yeast from White Labs or Wyeast just follow the instructions on the label.

Step 2: Steeping the specialty grains – As we discussed in the prior post specialty malt provides the colour and flavour (with some sugars) for our ale. I find it helpful to order the grains pre-crushed as I do not have a milling machine. If you have purchased uncrushed grain and do not have a milling machine, transfer grains into a ziploc and crush with a rolling pin until all the grains have opened.

Now in a separate pot (not the brew kettle and make sure you have a lid) heat up 1 1/2 gallons of water to 165 F and remove from the heat. Transfer the crushed specialty grains into a steeping bag (if you have one) tie a knot in the end, and place into the pot of water. If you do not have a bag just pour the grains directly into the 165F water. Cover the pot and steep for 20mins. Remember temperature is important. Too hot or too cold could lead to bad flavours and/or cloudy beer.

Once the 20mins are up remove the grains and dispose of them by either removing the bag or straining through a sieve or colander. Transfer the infused liquid into your boiling kettle along with an additional 1 1/2 gallons of water, cover the kettle, and turn the kettle heat to high.

NOTE If you used the straining method to steep the specialty grains try leaving the grains in the strainer and filtering the 1 1/2 gallons of additional water through the grains to extract more of the colour a flavour still present in the grains. If you do this you will need to heat the water to 165 F before you begin to strain.

Specialty Grains and a Steeping Sock

Place Specialty Grains in the Steeping Sock

Heat a pot 1 1/2 gallons of water

Heat a pot 1 1/2 gallons of water

Heat steeping water to 165 F before adding grains

Heat steeping water to 165 F before adding grains

Remove from heat add grains and cover for 20 mins

Remove from heat add grains and cover for 20 mins

Remove grains and pour liquid into the brewing kettle

Remove grains and pour liquid into the brewing kettle

Cover kettle and turn heat to high

Cover kettle and turn heat to high

Step 3: Adding the base malt and bittering hopes – Once the liquid (called wort) has reached boiling point remove from the heat (be careful the wort does not boil over it makes a mess and tries the patience of patient wife leading to banishment to garden) and wait for the foam (known as the hot break) to subside. Now add in your malt extract, stirring the wort well to dissolve the malt. Replace the kettle back on the heat and bring back to a boil. The base malt is responsible for the bulk of the sugar content in your brew. The more malt the more alcohol.

Once the wort reaches boil add the bittering hops. These hops need the full boil time to extract their alpha acids giving the beer its bitter taste. The higher the alpha, and/or the longer they cook, and/or the larger the quantity will all cause a more bitter beer. Beer bitterness is measured in IBU’s (International Bitterness Units), the higher the value the more bitter the beer. Now set the timer to 60 mins keeping the wort on a high simmer.

Malt Extract and Bittering Hops

Malt Extract and Bittering Hops

Remove boiling wort from heat and add malt extract

Remove boiling wort from heat and add malt extract

Put back on heat, bring to boil then add hops. Set timer for 60 mins

Put back on heat, bring to boil then add hops

Set timer for 60mins, we are off

Set timer for 60mins, we are off

Step 4: Brew additions – It is not uncommon for recipes to require additional ingredients to be added during the boil. These are typically additional malt, hops or sugars. Hops added in the latter half of a brew are called flavour hops. The beta acids impart aroma and some flavour as some of the alpha acids are also extracted. The longer the hops have to boil the more bitter flavor is extracted. Flavour hop additions tend to be added between 30-45 mins into a boil. Hops added at the end of a boil only extract the beta acids giving a beer a strong fruity aroma. These hops are called aroma hops. Aroma hops are typically added with under 5 minutes to go or once the 60 min boil has completed.

Other additions include Irish Moss. Irish moss is a natural way to help clarify the beer during fermentation. Irish moss is typically added 30 mins into the boil.

Adding 1 tsp Irish Moss at the 30min mark

Adding 1 tsp Irish Moss at the 30min mark

Adding Flavour Hops at 45mins

Adding Flavour Hops at 45mins

Step 5: Cooling and aerating the wort – Once the 60 mins are up and all the ingredients have been added it is essential to cool the wort down as quickly as possible to ensure no bad bacterias get a chance to grow. I have access to a large farm sink in which I place the brew kettle and fill with ice cold water from the tap cooling the sides of the kettle. I find 2 sinkfuls gets the temperature down to ~110F.

Next I add ice cold water to the wort to bring the kettle to a total of 5 gallons of liquid. This brings the temperate down between 75-80F, perfect for transferring to the carboy for fermentation. During this step stir the wort well, this will efficiently aerate the liquid and create an oxygen rich environment enabling the yeast to grow healthy cells.

For those without a sink or who work with larger brew volumes, homebrew equipment suppliers provide wort chillers. These are typically a coil of copper tubing that fits inside a kettle with hose attachments at each end to affix a hose. Cold water is continuously cycled through the coil cooling the wort very quickly.

Cooling wort in a sink full for ice cold water whilst stirring to mix in the oxygen

Cooling wort in a sink full for ice cold water whilst stirring to mix in the oxygen

Getting the temperature down to 75F by topping up kettle to 5 gal with cold water

Getting the temperature down to 75F by topping up kettle to 5 gal with cold water

Step 6: Pitching the yeast (almost there) – With the wort sufficient cooled its time to measure the Specific Gravity of the wort using a hydrometer. The Specific Gravity measures the density of sugar in the wort and the density of the water. The Original Gravity (OG) reading gives us the amount of sugar present in the wort prior to the fermentation stage. At the end of the fermentation process the Final Gravity (FG) reading is taken to calculate how much sugar remains. Most hydrometers also provide an Alcohol By Volume (ABV) scale. So by subtracting the FG reading from the OG gives us the final ABV of your brew. E.g if the OG reading = 1050 we have an initial ABV of 6.5%. Then at the end of fermentation we get a FG =1012 and a final ABV of 1.5%. Simply subtract 1.5% from 6.5% to get a pint of ale with an ABV of 5%, a fine session brew.

To measure the OG simply transfer a sample of the wort into a test jar (I use a clean turkey baster) and insert the hydrometer. Mark the value in a notebook and pour back the wort into the kettle. Once you have completed this task pour the yeast into the kettle and give a little stir.

Time to measure the Specific Gravity

Time to measure the Specific Gravity

The OG reading is 1042, almost perfect for a Best Bitter

The OG reading is 1042, almost perfect for a Best Bitter

Now lets pitch the yeast (some Wyeast London ESB in this case)

Now lets pitch the yeast (some Wyeast London ESB in this case)

Step 7: Transferring the wort into the Carboy – You will need a pair of strong arms and funnel. Too keep the wife happy I place a towel on the floor under the clean carboy (not the hand towel, it will get you in lots of trouble, an old rag should do the job). Place a wide funnel in the top of the carboy and carefully poor the contents of the kettle into the funnel. I sometimes ask either my 8 or 6 year old to hold the funnel steady typically with the sounds of “this beer is stinky daddy, stinky”.

Once transferred fill an airlock to the line with water, put the airlock in a bung, and secure the bung into the top of the carboy. Now move the carboy to a room with a constant temperature between 65-75F so the yeast can make babies and eat all the sugary goodness in the malt. This will produce alcohol and creating a wonderful marriage of flavours. It also creates CO2 which you can see popping out of the airlock during the fermentation. I use the basement.

Carboy reading on towl with funnel

Carboy ready on towel with funnel

5 gal of wort transfered (no spillage)

5 gal of wort transferred (no spillage)

Attached the airlock and bung...

Attached the airlock and bung...

...and off to the 65-70F basement it goes for 5-7 days

...and off to the 65-70F basement it goes for 5-7 days

Step 8: Cleanup – It keeps the wife happy and all your equipment clean and bacteria free. Happy wife is by far the most important of the two.

Have fun, next post we will walk through an actual recipe and we can check back in with our fermenting ale to check on progress.

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24 November
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Getting Started Pt II – Ingredients

I have just received delivery from Northern Brewer of all the ingredients I will need to start my next couple of brews. (Look for an “On Tap” update in the coming days)  Since I bought a second carboy I like to use one for a regular session brew and the other for some more experimental ales that often require longer conditioning times, like the 90 minute IPA I have cold conditioning right now.

Well the delivery reminded me I need to post the Part 2 (out of 3) in my “Getting Started” series.  Now we have the equipment we need to create most styles of ale its time to review the basic ingredients.  This post is meant to be an introduction and we will be getting into the details and varieties as our journey progresses.

English Marris Otter

English Marris Otter

The major ingredient in homebrew is malt.  Malt is a significant factor in colour (it is British Brewer after all), taste, and alcohol level in ale.  Simply put malt is the product of soaking grains in water until they begin to germinate. The grains are then heated to halt the germination process.  This 2-stage “malting” process causes the grains to produce essential enzymes required to modify the grains starch into sugars and enable the yeast to do its job.  Different varieties of grain are used each with a specific flavour or colour characteristic. Certain varieties are toasted or smoked to produce darker, nuttier or smoked flavour characteristics.  We will get into the various types of grain some other time, especially when we review recipes and the types of malt they are based on.  Basically there are two categories – the Base Malt, and Specialty Malt. Base malts make up the bulk of the a batch and are typically based from one of 2 types of barley, either 2-Row or 6-Row.  These grains are very efficient at breaking down the starches into sugar.  Specialty malt provides a small amount of sugar but its main function is to provide, colour, flavour and body to the finished ale.

Ale made by the professionals is based on an “all-grain” process using hundreds of pounds of malt in the process.  Modern homebrew technology has evolved over the years to enable us mere mortals to create all-grain based brews but the process is long, complex and requires a relatively large quantity of grain. As yet I have not attempted an all-grain process (time, money, space reasons) and instead use a combination of malt extract and a smaller amount of specialty grains.

Malt extract comes in two varieties, Dry Malt Extract (DME), and Liquid Malt Extract (LME).  Both replace the need for a large quantity of base malt grains.  Most suppliers provide malt extract manufactured with some flavor and color characteristics required to produce most of the popular ale styles today.  Most of the recipes we will be working with will use a combination of specialty grains and malt extract.

Fuggle Hops

Fuggle Hops

Another significant ingredient are Hops which contribute significantly to the taste and aroma of an ale. Hop resin is made up of alpha and beta acids.  Alpha acids are responsible for the bitter taste in the ale and tend to be put in at the beginning of the brew process.  The higher the alpha the more bitter.  Beta acids have little effect to the flavor of an ale instead providing the aroma characteristics and are added to the brew in the middle and end of the brew process.  Hops are supplied dried or as pellets. I prefer pellets as they have a longer shelf life.  Popular English hop varieties include Kent Goldings and Fuggles.

Dried Yeast

Dried Yeast

Finally the magic ingredient, the bacteria that converts the sugar from the malt into alcohol during the fermentation process, the brewers yeast.  Yeast is also a significant contributor to the taste of an ale.  There are two main types of brewers yeast, top-fermenting and bottom-fermenting.  Top-fermenting yeast causes a foam to form on the top of the brew (wort) during the fermentation process, prefer higher temperatures (61 – 75 F), produce a fruitier flavour, and a higher alcohol content. These yeasts are typically used in ales.  Bottom-fermenting yeast works at lower temperatures, ferments more sugars, creating a dry crispier taste and is commonly used in lagers.  Yeast requires oxygenated wort in order to produce healthy yeast cells.  Today yeast is sold to homebrewers in either a dried or liquid form with hundreds of different strains replicating many of the strains used all over the world by professional breweries.

There are other ingredients used in a brew, from sugar, irish moss, to speciality additions such as oak chips, spices and fruit. There are infinite possibilities of colour, taste, aroma, and strength.  This is what makes homebrewing so much fun and if you can boil water on a stove and follow a simple recipe you can make great tasting ale.  Next time we will introduce a basic brewing process following a simple recipe to create a British staple – Best Bitter.


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