adp-stuff: BEER

"Who doesn't like beer?" said somebody or other on a TV programme (actually The Mentalist) that I watched last night. Good question! In reality, I suppose quite a lot of people don't like beer, and some are even fundamentally opposed to the very idea of it, but that's not the point. Thousands of years after the secret of beer making was discovered and man turned from hunter gatherer into farmer, just so that a sustainable supply of beer could be produced, people across the world are still drinking the stuff. For the person in question on the TV show, it took the offer of one bottle of beer from Patrick Jane to buy his secrets. But look here, you're getting mine for nothing. I already have plenty beer of my own!

There are loads of guides to making beer on the internet including videos, all slightly different. There is no single right way, most will make good beer and in fact if you get the basics right, it is hard not to make good beer. Here is my way...

Beer, the making of, part 1:

Recipe - although not essential, it helps to have an idea in your mind before you start. There are various programs which you can use to help design your beer; I like Beer Engine because it's free and does all I need. Using this, I conjured up the following recipe for a tasty dark beer. It is code-named Barrel Scraper because the recipe originally came about when using up various left over grains and hops. It has mutated with virtually every incarnation. Here is the latest:

Fermentable Colour lb: oz Grams Ratio
Pale Malt 5 EBC 6 lbs. 9.8 oz 3000 grams 69.8%
Chicken food, mixed grain 0 EBC 2 lbs. 3.3 oz 1000 grams 23.3%
Chocolate Malt 1050 EBC 0 lbs. 3.5 oz 100 grams 2.3%
Crystal Malt 130 EBC 0 lbs. 3.5 oz 100 grams 2.3%
Roasted Barley 1350 EBC 0 lbs. 3.5 oz 100 grams 2.3%

Hop Variety Type Alpha Time lb: oz grams Ratio
Target Whole 12.5 % 90 mins 0 lbs. 0.9 oz 25 grams 62.5%
Challenger Whole 7.6 % 15 mins 0 lbs. 0.5 oz 15 grams 37.5%

Final Volume: 23 Litres
Original Gravity: 1.038
Final Gravity: 1.010
Alcohol Content: 3.7% ABV
Total Liquor: 32.6 Litres
Mash Liquor: 12.9 Litres
Mash Efficiency: 70 %
Bitterness: 43.6019742022358 EBU
Colour: 82 EBC

To anyone versed in these things, the above should need little explanation, apart from the ingredient "Chicken food, mixed grain". This is because I'm using a big bag of mixed grains (probably mostly barley and oats, some whole grains, some cracked and some milled) that were given to me by a neighbour who works at a mill, to feed to the chickens. This replaces flaked barley in the original recipe. Actually, I've upped the amount of this ingredient to the maximum to help use the stuff up! Following this recipe should give around 23 litres of fermentable wort, with an original gravity of 1.038, which should in turn give a beer with final strength of 3.7%.

Part 2 getting it all weighed out


Here are all the dry ingredients in a bucket, weighed out the night before. The malt is out of sight on the bottom. On the top you can see roasted barley (top), crystal malt (bottom right) and chocolate malt (bottom left). The white stuff in the middle is my added salts. At one point, I went to great lengths to figure out the salts that I needed to add to my local tap water in order to get a good brewing water. It worked out something like this: 2 tsp gypsum (calcium sulphate) , 1/3 tsp calcium chloride, 1/6 tsp Epsom salts (magnesium chloride) and a pinch of sable salt for an average sized mash. This is for the very soft water that we get here. It will be different for everyone. I'm never sure whether using the salts made much of a difference, but now I just chuck them in for luck.

Part 3 - the water


The night before, I fill up the "hot liquor tun", AKA tea urn, with cold tap water. This isn't treated with salt additions, as I add them to the grain mix. Then I get up about 7am, plug the thing in, and go back to bed for 30 minutes or so....

Part 4, 5, 6... etc, you get the idea...

Mash tun

When I get up, I look out this old thing. It's the mash tun, which started out in life as a cheapo cooler from ASDA. Inside, there are a few bits of copper pipe with slits cut in them with a hacksaw. They join together and then empty to the outside via the blue tap you can see. There are numerous variations on this design that can be found on the internet. One thing you might notice is the little white things on the lid. What I've done here is drill small holes in the lid, then stopper them with little plastic stoppers. The reason will come clear later on.

Temp check

I'm waiting for the temperature of the water to get over 75C. This is so that when it goes into the mash tun, it will end up around 72C (if it ends up significantly off, it can be corrected by adding a bit more hot or cold water, as appropriate). I usually mash with 3 litres of water to each kg of grain. So here, with 4.3kg of grain, I'm looking for around 13 litres of water.

Fill her up

Hot water going into the mash tun.

How many litres?

The inside is calibrated, but I managed to stop at 12 litres instead of 13, oops. Never mind, these wee things rarely make a lot of difference.

Mashing in

Now we're really cooking, the grains get tipped in gradually, while stirring with a long-handled plastic spoon.

Spot on!

Measuring the temperature of the mash is important. Most people aim for around 66-67C. Lower gives a higher alcohol beer with less body. Higher gives the opposite. I seem to have hit on 67C despite my little error with the amount of hot water to begin with. After that, the top is put back on and the mash allowed to sit for 90 minutes. Meanwhile, the HLT is topped up again and turned back on, aiming for anywhere between 75-85C. I don't bother treating this water - apparently it's during the mash that is most important. While we're at it, I used to drop in half a campden tablet into each tea urn load of water prior to heating, which is supposed to remove chlorine and chloramine from tap water. After forgetting a few times and noticing no difference, I've stopped bothering. In some areas with heavy water treatment, this would probably be essential.

Getting ready

After the 90 mins is up, the mash tun lid is removed and the wee stoppers taken out. Then it is flipped and put back on. You can see here the arrangement in readiness for the next stage. Highest up is the HLT, draining into the mash tun (the lid with holes in helps to distribute the water evenly over the grain bed), with the boiler just visible below that on the left (you can see the element in this pic if you look closely).

Topping up

The hot water is poured into the tun until it fills up. And so commences the sparging stage, where the malty goodness is washed away from the grains using hot water.

First runnings

The tap of the mash tun is then opened and the first runnings collected. This is done with a jug in each hand. A litre is collected in each...


...then poured back into the top. This collects particulates and recirculates them, helping to give a clearer beer. I usually recirculate 6 - 8 litres.


Once recirculation is over, the run off from the mash tun is collected in the boiler and hot water from the HLT is dribbled in at the same rate.

Filling up

The boiler starts to fill up. Here you can see the element and hop filter (copper pipe with small holes drilled into it). This is basically just a plastic bucket with a kettle element and a tap. I bought mine ready-made (though the hop filter was my own addition). Again, you will find lots of how-tos on the internet for making your own, or else you can buy one ready-made. I didn't trust myself to make something that wouldn't spill 30 litres of boiling wort at just the wrong moment.

Plugged in!

Once filled, the boiler is plugged in and covered by a lid, with the thermometer held in place using a clothes peg. Using a lid is a potentially dangerous move. You need to check regularly and remove it once the temp rises close to 100C. Failure to do this results in a hot, sticky boil over scenario. It is worth the risk in order to speed up the boil.

Rolling boil

After about 30 minutes a rolling boil is achieved and the lid comes off.

First hops

Next, the bittering hops are added (Target in this case) and stirred in. The whole lot is left to boil away for a total of 90 minutes.

Cooling coil

Next, I look out the cooling coil. Cold water goes in one end and comes out hot the other.

Final additions

With 15 minutes to go, the coil is placed in the boiler. This allows it time to heat up and kill any bugs that might be lurking on the coil. Then there is an addition of Challenger hops for flavour. You might also be able to make out a light brown tablet of Protofloc on the plate. This is a seaweed derivative, which helps to clump the proteins together, making for a clearer beer in the end. I tend to use half a tablet per batch.

Final stir

Hot and blurry, the final stir goes on. Once 90 minutes have elapsed since the start of the boil, the boiler is turned off.

Turn on the water

The cold water supply to the cooling coil is switched on.


Cooling in progress, with the water exiting from the cooling coil and going down the sink.

Draining the boiler

The cooled wort is released into a sanitised fermenting bucket, and the first litre or so of run-off collected in a jug to be recycled at the top.

Yeast in...

While the wort is draining into the fermenting vessel (FV), I pour in the yeast. This is dried Nottingham ale yeast. I use it because I like the results and it is easy to use.


After a few minutes, the FV fills up, here to just over 23 litres. The froth subsides in a few minutes.

Left overs

There is just some leftover hops and congealed proteins at the bottom of the boiler.


A lid is then put on the FV and opened up a crack to let out the CO2.


A small amount of wort is reserved for testing the original gravity (OG). This comes out at 1.038, for once exactly what was predicted!

Bubble bubble

Fast forward 24 hours, quickly removing the top reveals a mass of nicely fermenting beer...

Testing final gravity
After fermenting for a week, the beer reaches final gravity of about 1.009, and is ready for kegging. The barrel is cleaned and sanitised and primed with 40g of sugar.


Here is the beer being syphoned off into the barrel. The top is screwed on once finished and the barrel left to mature for a few weeks. Ideally about 4-6 weeks, but sometimes I'm getting stuck in after only two. "Green" beer can taste great, but be aware that it can increase the frequency of gaseous emissions from the nether regions. You might notice that there is another batch of beer to the left - it has just been boiled and cooled, ready to be drained into the fermenting bucket on top of the leftover yeast from the previous batch. This is a good way to cut down costs, but I tend not to re-use yeast this way more than once to reduce the chances of any contamination happening. Not sure how likely this is, but that's just how I do it.

It's beer Jim

A few weeks later and here is the finished product, freshly poured from the barrel at room temperature. Smooth, dark and full of flavour, balanced with a tangy bitterness, it slipped down a treat! It may take a few weeks to get to this stage, but none of the steps are particularly difficult. So if you have time on your hands and can afford about 20-odd pence per pint, then why not try making your own real ale.


(C) Alan Pemberton, last edited 07/06/14