Hibiscus & Grapefruit Pale Ale

Today’s experimental brew (version 2, more grapefruit and less hibiscus to try for a better balance). Ready from the 21st June. Version 1 was well received by my tasting panel but was not exactly what I was looking for. Hopefully this will be a lot closer. Inspired by T2’s French Earl Grey Tea.

It will be interesting to see what colour this comes out as, version one was amazing…

Amazing Pink Beer

Hibiscus & Grapefruit Pale Ale – Version 1

Hop Doctor’ing

Brewing is like cooking is like chemistry.

First you need to accumulate a large body of information and only then can have the knowledge of the elements to which you can then apply principles to acheive the change / end point / effect which you are seeking. The benefit with brewing is that you can make something palatable within a few weeks, this is less true in the chemistry lab! At the end of 2018 I explored a changing career from chemistry to brewing. I was given the opportunity to assist in the operation of a local midi-brewery and within a few weeks I truly caught the bug. The fully fledged brewers I worked with were overflowing with enthusiasm for beer and have been teaching me the wide variety of what is possible when starting from just malt, hops yeast and water.

In April I was excited to be offered and accepted a permanent position at the brewery. So as I said to a friend the other day, I now have the task of gaining a lifetimes experience in less than half a lifetime. How to do this? Perhaps I could seek to gain a brewing degree, but these days that costs a minimum of £27,000. Or I could listen carefully to my colleagues, attend local ‘Meet the Brewer’ events, read widely and take what I learn and then try it out myself at home. This is the approach I am seeking to take by equipping myself with my own 25 L Pico Brewery.


With this kit I can start from the same ingredient base as a commercial brewery and in fact have more flexibility with process variables than even the modern 5000 L brewery which is my four-day-a-week workplace. I wrote before about solo brewing at the 100 L scale and the great feedback I got for Chiff Chaff.

Our head brewer suggested to me that the place to start would be to pick a simple recipe and seek to make it three times to get familiar with my kit and to prove I could make a good beer by design and not by accident. The proof for this coming from the consistency between these three batches. As before I sought to opt a style I like, that being the ‘middle runnings’ beer which was common when breweries had only three offering. Best Bitter, ‘The Middle One’ and ‘Old Fall-e-over-water’. My inspiration came from Theakston’s XB and Wye Valley’s Butty Bach. Something low on bitterness, high on malt and easy drinking at around 4.5% ABV.

For me to have my own pilot plant in my workshop is the realisation of what I thought an impossible dream. All stainless steel so it’s easy to sanitise and will not transfer flavours from one batch to the next. Good temperature control of course, and my little extravagance, an in-situ densitometer for the fermenter (FV). This is now available to the amateur brewer in the form of the Tilt. Having used it in two fermentations I am already very impressed. Using an old tablet I have been able collect the Bluetooth transmitted data from the Tilt and not only display locally but also export to a Google Sheet in the Cloud.


This will help me to understand the fermentation profile of different batches, and ultimately of different yeasts and also to be able to track progress even when I’m not at home. As yet I cannot control the FV remotely, but an add on for my fermenter can be purchased.

My combi mash-tun / wort boiler is a Grainfather chosen because of it’s batch size flexibility. I want to be able to run as low as 10 L batches when I’m experimenting.


Conditioning at controlled temperature in a Corny Keg

The idea is not to make a lot of volume, but instead a high amount of variety as this is what will drive my learning. I’m pleased also to be pulling together an enthusiastic tasting panel who got their samples of my first brew, “Xb, Nobel but not Inert’ this week. The initial feedback has been very positive, perhaps I can be a Hop Doctor after all?

#chiffchaff – update

dsc_0215My first ‘all grain’ (i.e. designed and made from raw ingredients) is now mature and ready to drink.  There was a delay because my first attempt failed due to a problem with the fermentation being slow to kick off.  However, this proved a valuable lesson in how to best operate the pilot scale brew kit and with this knowledge behind me attempt two was a complete success.  My NEIPA hybrid* “#chiffchaff” is now ready and is due to be served on the bar at Holmes Mill Beer Hall in the near future.  A firm date has yet to be agreed but may be at the next ‘Meet the Brewer’ event scheduled for later in March.  There are only 9 gallons, so don’t delay.

The aim was to match another commercial beer and thus the project has fully met it’s brief.   An all grain brew at the pilot scale takes similar dexterity to a multistage organometallic synthesis, so suffice it to say I am very pleased.  I know what I’m drinking with dinner tonight!

*designed to contain suspended yeast and thus cloudy.

Flying solo

If you read my last post you’ll know that I am re-training to become a brewer. The team I’m working with are really supportive, and as part of this set me a two part challenge. This post is about part one…

My challenge was to choose a beer I liked and then seek to make a copy of it using the pilot brew kit. This has an output of around 65 litres / 115 pints. The beer I chose was from Farmyard Ales, a Pale-Ale / East Coast IPA hybrid called ‘Chaff.’ It’s a nicely balanced and fruity beer full of New World hop flavours. As I alluded to before, there’s more to brewing a beer than might first meet the eye. You need to choose:

  • The blend of malts you use.
  • The ABV and thus the quantity of malt.
  • The mineral content of the brewing liquor (water).
  • The types of hops, quantity and times of addition.
  • The yeast type.
  • The fermentation temperature.
  • The SG (sugar level) at which to stop the fermentation.
  • The level of finished carbonation / packaging type.

All of these factors affect the taste and mouthfeel (mostly viscosity) of the finished beer. With a good palate and experience it should be possible to make an educated guess of all of the above with the exception of knowing the yeast strain chosen by the original brewer. So I contacted Steven at Farmyard Ales. He was so helpful, not only did he let me know the yeast type they use he also sent me a copy of the brew sheet (recipe). As I alluded to before, the local brewing community here (and for all I know further afield as well) is really friendly and supportive. Since I want to honour the trust given me in getting sight of the original brew sheet I’ll focus this post on my experience and not share any of the recipe details.

Because this challenge was to help grow my experience I used just the malt and hop types from the brew sheet and set about doing my own design calculations. These I could then check back against the brew sheet to see if they were correct. In comparison to powder science (my penultimate field) the calculations were straight forwards, but for all that the subject is new to me. From what I can see so far, the skill of the brewer is not so much in the science but in combining this with a true feel for good flavour and texture combinations. It’s a little like being a chef, but ideally at the Heston Blumenthal end of the spectrum.

With my brew sheet complete and checked by our lead-brewer I was ready to roll, and on Friday morning started my brew day. The two most important factors in brewing are cleanliness and temperature control so I started my day with…

A good clean of the brew kit.

A good clean of the brew kit.

Mashing in

Mashing in (aided by the lagging I fitted in December, *Blue Peter Badge Pending)




Boiling the wort

Boiling the wort (to extract and isomerise the isohumulone from the bittering hops)

After that I was pleased we had a baby heat exchanger to cool the wort as it transferred into the fermenting pan.  Quick and easily controlled, very much my cup of tea (or should that be pint of ale?)

Fermenting is now taking place in the fabulously Heath Robinson temperature controlled box. A PID controller linked to a cooling coil and an airing cupboard heater all inside a well insulated Eurocrate. Hopefully the fermentation will be complete by Tuesday then it will need conditioning for a week before we can see if I have succeeded with challenge one, watch this space!

Time for a change…

bowland brewery window b&w

I don’t normally talk about my work on this blog, but perhaps that is about to change.  In the past few years I’ve had little passion for what I’ve been doing, even though I’ve worked with very good people and been well paid for doing so. So no reason to share.  Twenty years ago my career started in the lab, and then progressed to the day-to-day technical support of chemical plants. As one progresses, less time is spent hands on and more time is spent behind a desk / PC.

By the end of 2017 I felt I’d been behind a desk for long enough and it was time for a change. I quit my role as R&D Manager and took a year’s sabbatical to rest (I was more than tired, I was burnt out) spent time praying and meditating on the next chapter and enjoyed time with my son in the final year before him starting school.  To cut a long story short I concluded I’d rather be a good and happy husband / father than a well paid and grumpy technical manager.  Further I felt called to be hands-on operating manufacturing plant making a product that society values and where quality was more important than cost.  No part of the chemical industry within commuting distance of home seemed to tick those boxes.  The product which does, I concluded, is decent beer (be that ‘real’ or ‘craft’ ale). Not beer to get drunk on, but to savour and enjoy.

I am and have been most grateful to the folk at the Bowland Brewery who agreed to me having a week’s work-shadowing experience back in Aug-18.  It was a great experience with great people. When I wrote to say thank you I pointed out that I would be happy to carry out relief cover should that ever be required.  I started in the cask filling area some few weeks later and now some five months further on I am still there, covering for long-term sickness. The team is very generous in having allowed me to learn the operation of the main brew kit by working alongside one of the regular brewers once a fortnight since November. I’m still temporary relief cover, but I’m earning whilst I’m learning and getting into the position to be a viable candidate for a permanent time brewing role.


There is a lot more to brewing than may meet the eye of someone sat at the bar enjoying a pint.  Working towards my IBD General Certificate in Brewing has taught me that. I guess this post is my chance to thank all the people who have made this possible, especially Craig, Scott and Graeme at Bowland.  My thanks also to Brian Yorston, Head Brewer at Thwaites.  The Lancashire brewing community is a really amiable and helpful one (more on that in my next post), a far cry from the corporate ‘dog eat dog’ world which I left.