17 September 2008

True Brew Nut Brown Ale


It's funny. I never had the slightest interest in homebrewing, but this summer I suddenly got the itch and it wouldn't go away, so I succumbed. There were two main reasons I wasn't interested in homebrewing:

  1. Sanitation. Who wants a hobby that stresses cleanliness so heavily?
  2. I'm not a big drinker. I mean, I like beer a lot, but I like to drink as many different ones as possible rather than a bunch of the same. What would I do with two cases of possibly mediocre suds?
But for whatever reason, I took the plunge. I bought a basic equipment kit (plastic pail, no wort chiller or anything) and a True Brew Nut Brown Ale kit. My guide was Palmer's How to Brew, which I might write about in a separate post. I also tried to read as many web pages as possible about the hobby.

The True Brew Nut Brown Ale kit includes Munton's ingredients: a can of hopped light LME, one pound each of pound of amber and light DME, a pound of brown sugar (!), specialty grains (chocolate malt, dark crystal and black patent), Fuggles finishing hops, and Munton's Dry Yeast.

I brewed this first batch on one of the many unfortunately hot weekends in July. I prepped as much as possible and things went well... up to a point.

My first mistake was dumping my sanitizer when I thought I was done with it. I ended up needing more for items I'd forgotten about. My second problem was cooling the wort. Despite only doing a partial boil, it took me way too long using an ice bath. On hindsight, I should have stirred the water outside the pot (or stirred the wort inside it) to get some convection going. I impatiently pitched my (re-hydrated, as per Palmer) yeast at 73-74 degrees.

I also didn't aerate the wort enough, and the top off water I used had been boiled, which I think means it lost most of its oxygen. I stored my fermenter in a basement storage area that was a tad over 70 degrees, but the temperature inside the vessel was in the high 70s when fermenting. This meant quick fermentation, but also some wayward esters. The FG never made it below 1.020 (it was supposed to be 1.012-14). The OG was supposed to be 1.050, though I never verified that. Poor attenuation. Poor brewing, I suppose, although I've discovered that a lot of people have problems with Munton's regular dry yeast.

About bottling day, the less said the better. What a mess. Someone's going to say I should switch to kegging, but I really don't want to invest more money until I brew a few more batches. After bottling was done, I really needed a beer, and what I had (something from Flying Dog, I think) was the best beer I’d ever drank if for no other reason than I had no need to de-label the bastard afterward. (For the record, Hoegaarden labels are super easy to remove, but don't even bother with St. Peters.)

I poured my first beer two weeks after bottling, four weeks after brewing, and it was murky and, of all things, a tad astringent, powdery on the back of the tongue. Did I boil the specialty grains? I don't think so. But that was the only bottle that felt like that. In successive beers I've tasted a bunch of wrong flavors, though it seems to be improving. Maybe it will taste good someday. What's always been good about it is the big, fluffy head that sticks to the glass as you drink it, as well as the spot on carbonation (I used 3.5 ounces of corn sugar instead of 5, in part due to my high ending FG).

So overall, what do I make of it? In cooking terms, homebrewing seems like a cross between making chicken broth and baking, in its emphasis on sanitation and precision, respectively. This isn't the casual stew or soup making we all know and love. It has a comical ratio of doing-to-waiting. And it isn't necessarily value for the money; better to think of those dollars as coming out of your hobby/entertainment budget than your beer budget. Nonetheless, I can't wait to brew again, and spend hours planning my next batch, not to mention the batch after that.


amm002 said...

Good post, I've had many of those same experiences over the years. Glad it didn't completely turn you off. You're right...brewing is 80% cleaning and sitting around twiddling your thumbs, and 20% beer making. Over time you naturally figure out how to improve your sanitizing efforts and processes, and if you're like me, you spend way too much money on equipment upgrades. But in the end I think it's worth it, the final product is much, much better.

Buttle said...

What I didn't anticipate is the way the beer improves over time. It would be depressing if your first bottle were lousy and you knew the whole batch would be like that.

amm002 said...

Yep, unpasteurized beer changes character, similar to wine.

ShaneBertou said...

Thanks for posting this. I made the same Nut Brown kit for my first batch last weekend. It'll be a while before I know how it came out, but it had an AMAZING aroma while I was brewing it.

Anonymous said...

Sounds very much like my first foray into home brewing. I also started off with True Brew's nut brown ale, with similar results. The beer came out very weak, under hopped, and overly sweet. I'm hoping it will improve with time, but am not too hopeful. I've since read up and just brewed a much more promising partial mash oatmeal stout (still in the fermenter). I'm hoping to redeem myself with this one...

Anonymous said...

Having been brewing since December (and on my 10th batch) I can tell you that if you have a basement to condition in you're way ahead of the game. Two of my batches were so 'astringent' I thought I would have to toss them. They tasted like solvent. But after over a month in the basement I drank a bottle of each tonight and they were great.

Buttle said...

Yeah, the basement area helps. Possibly I can lager mid-winter as well as it goes down to around 40 degrees.

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-jason said...

similar story. my first batch (and only batch to date) was the Nut Brown Ale. I just opened up the first one a few days ago. It seemed a little sweet and not enough carbonation. I figured I would let it sit a few more weeks and try it again. did you beer get better with age?