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.