Extract Blondes

Ref 2021-01 Extract Blondes Brewer Pain & Patience
Style American Blonde Type Beer, extract
Started Wed 27th Jan 21 OG 1.044 Status Available, 3.7% ABV
Packaged Wed 3rd Feb 21 FG 1.016 Fermenter Plastic Bottle
Handle 2021-01 Extract Blondes
Brewer Pain & Patience
Style American Blonde
Type Beer, extract
Fermenter Plastic Bottle
Status Available, 3.7% ABV ABV
Started Wed 27th Jan 21 OG 1.044
Packaged Wed 3rd Feb 21 FG 1.016

My first attempt at an extract brew, using a simple recipe derived from the BF recipe builder and some help on the forum. You can make beer from a kit using regular kitchenware, so why not ditch the kit and choose my own malt extract, hops, and yeast? I don’t have a stock pot big enough for a full boil, but using LME (liquid malt extract) it’s not necessary to boil all the malt – technically that’s already been done for you, and all you’re doing is heating water in order to put your bittering hops through isomerisation and extract those precious oils.

I had plenty of LME kicking around from a previous order, and knew I wanted to use one whole 1.2 kg pack for this experiment, so working backwards I used the recipe builder at Brewer’s Friend to determine how much beer I could make from that quantity of LME and in what style. The tool told me I can expect 8 litres of fermentable wort at 1.044 OG and that I’d need 12.3 litres of pre-boil water, based on some equipment profile that I hadn’t set up and probably wouldn’t understand. So I ditched that part of the recipe, resolving instead to boil half my LME topped up to 4 litres, since our shiny new 6.5 litre pot could handle that easily.

I also used the recipe builder to work out how much hops to add in order to hit my target IBU for an American Blonde, dropping the hops in two stages as suggested in an easy recipe on the forum. Hopefully the reduced volume boil won’t have affected the isomerisation of the hops, and I’ll still get the desired effect.

Finally, I used two 5 litre vessels with 1 litre of head-space in each because my only other choice would have been to use a 23 litre bucket with tons of head-space. Two vessels also give me the option of dry-hopping one and not the other, so I can see a comparison.

Milestones & Tasks

Mar 03 -237dReady to taste
Feb 10 -258dStarted conditioning
Feb 03 -265dBottle 14 gold crown caps
Jan 30 -269dAdded 30g Cascade hops
Jan 27 -272dStarted primary
Mar 202103Wed

These should have been in the cold for 3 weeks now, let’s see how they’ve developed.

Update 02 March: there are only 3 bottles left. To think I could sit on something this good! Will definitely repeat this recipe at some point in the nearby future, this time using Citra (as planned!) for the dry-hop.

18 days
Feb 202113Sat

After yesterday’s positive test I couldn’t resist the temptation to try another one from this batch, this time a Hoppy. Same cloudy appearance and good carbonation, strong taste of hops, thankfully no twang here either.

In hindsight I reckon 20g of Cascade would have been enough for 4 litres, as it’s quite a strong taste and not as citrusy as I was hoping. The 30g I used probably prevent this from being a true session ale even though it’s very pleasant to drink. Question is, would 20g be enough had I used Citra?

1 day
Feb 202112Fri

What am I doing trying this already, just two days after it’s started conditioning? Well, I wanted to see what she’s like now versus when she’s cleared, if there are any nasty flavours that will get worse or will condition out, and because at only 3.7% ABV it’s a perfectly acceptable thing to open at 18:00 on a Friday evening.

Turns out they’re pretty good! I had a Dippy one, and there was plenty of carbonation resulting in a good head straight from the bottle. Nowhere near clear and yet there’s tons of sediment cruising the bottom, some of which made it into my glass despite best intentions. Flavour is very nice; none of the home-brew twang that I was afraid of, and a simple, clean taste that would probably be improved with a touch of malted grains and finishing hops.

This bodes well for Hoppy, which I’m also going to test over the coming days. If that turns out well then I’ll brew another 8 or 10 litre batch with plenty of hops using my new stainless mini bucket from SS Brewtech, which I’ll be able to purge of oxygen thanks to the new CO2 kit.

2 days
7 days
Feb 202103Wed

It’s been three whole days (and a bit) since this one was dry-hopped, time to stuff them into bottles.

FG didn’t come down to 1.011 as predicted (managed a comparatively mild 1.016 for 3.68% ABV) which is a pity but airlock activity had ceased and SG was stable for 4 days so it’s not as if I was being premature. Got 7 x 500 ml brown bottles from each FV, added two Fox’s carbonation drops and toped them off with gold crown caps.

First impressions of the taste were good; the dippy one was tasted first straight from the sample jar after taking a reading (huge head!) and had a cloudy consistency with nicely rounded mouth-feel, but also a tiny little bit of twang, which I’m hoping will dissipate with ageing. The hoppy one was tested towards the end of bottling when I didn’t have enough to complete another 500 ml brown bottle, so I drank the dregs instead. Much better taste than the un-hopped version, same mouth-feel but also great if simple aroma of hops with no noticeable twang.

Not sure if it was the hops that I need to thank or if the twang was due to something I did differently with the other vessel, but this half of the experiment was definitely the winner. Next time around I’ll add finishing hops to the whole batch, and may play around with more than one type and / or adding it at different stages.

4 days
Jan 202130Sat

It’s only been three days since we started primary, but the rate of fermentation has been dropping rapidly since it peaked 2 days ago, so I added the remaining 30g of Cascade to the vessel labelled ‘DH?’ – the Hoppy one. At first thought 30g seemed a little high and I was going to go with 20g, but there seemed little point in heat-sealing 10g away in the fridge, so I dumped it. Didn’t the Cellar Dweller recently review a beer with 50g of hops per litre? (can’t find it right now, but it’s somewhere on his channel) Anyway, 30g should be fine.

Gravity checked in at 1.016 (3.68% ABV) so it’s a little way off the 1.011 / 4.37% that the recipe predicted, but I figured that if we can drop 28 points in 3 days then our yeast should be able to manage the remaining 5 points in another 3 days. And if not then at least I won’t have bottle bombs to worry about when I put these two away.

The taste from the trial jar was pleasant if a little low on flavour. It’s easy to see why extract brewers often steep some speciality grains when using a light base malt, but given the strongly flavoured brews already on my shelves I don’t mind entertaining an easy-drinking session beer, especially if the finishing hops have their desired effect.

2 days
Jan 202128Thu

Having spent the larger part of the day pleased with myself at how well this brew’s progressing, I just read a chapter on Extract Brewing in the Big Book of Homebrewing (Christmas gift) and now I have cause for concern, because I transferred the steeped hops to the fermentation vessels when I probably should have filtered them out.

Which of course makes sense. Why would you bring that redundant gunk along for fermentation when you’ve already extracted all the oils that you want? Can’t believe I didn’t question that point in the instructions I blindly followed. I’m tempted to syphon both brews to new vessels (it’s not as though I’m short of 5 litre Ashbecks) but I’m probably going to do more harm now through oxygenation than I’ll do good by removing excess trub. Oh well, a lesson for next time perhaps.

On the positive side, the book agrees with my decision to add a portion of the LME near the end of the boil, which is nice. To be honest I have no idea why I did that, other than to make it easier to mix with the diluting water.

0 days
Jan 202128Thu

Bad news first: one of the new design lids using grommet instead of glue is leaking and needs to be replaced. There’s enough pressure to have a visible impact on the levels, but not enough to force the bubble out of the top before the gas escapes via an easier route. You can even see the levels moving slightly as the leak activates – check the video. I’ll fix this later today, using the correct drill bit to modify a fresh lid instead of fudging it with a countersunk bit because I was too lazy to look for the right tool last time.

On to the good news now, and these two vessels are going like the clappers! There was no sign of fermentation last night as we turned in about 3 hours after starting primary, but I couldn’t resist swinging by the brewery on a 01:00 loo run and was pleased to see about half an inch of foam on the Hoppy Blonde* and maybe a quarter of an inch on the Dippy one**.

When I checked in this morning I could see a generous head of Krausen on both vessels reaching almost to the top – guess I got lucky with estimating head-space. The wort inside was in obvious turmoil and couldn’t have been more animated had there been a kilowatt immersion heater jammed into the base. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a quick start to fermentation in a kit. Is this due to me using simple extract and steeping it along with hops rather than just adding hot water, as with all the kits until now? Maybe it’s due to the extra aeration from boiling, mixing, and splitting to two FVs? Was it the soaking of the yeast for 20 minutes and mixing it in, rather than just pitching it on top, dry? Or maybe it’s due to me accidentally using just over 1g of yeast per litre because my scales are crap. Who knows. I’ve got some better scales ordered and will likely use the same approach of waking my yeast next time since it wasn’t nearly as hard to pitch that paste as I thought it would be.

* I’m thinking of adding finishing hops to the vessel which was poured last from the bucket and subsequently received most of the sediment that was in the bucket, despite giving it a good stir. The version in this FV will therefor be known as Hoppy.

** Because she’s the slower of the two. So what?

1 day
Jan 202127Wed

Been a long afternoon, but I’ve finally taken a step further towards true brewing with my first extract attempt, fingers crossed this works out.

The Ingredients

  • Tesco Ashbeck bottled water, around 9 litres
  • 1.2 kg Mangrove Jack’s light LME (i.e. 1 whole bag)
  • 20g Cascade hop pellets (planning to dry-hop one FV later)
  • 10g ale yeast

The Plan

  1. Add half the LME to large pot, top up to 4 litre mark with water
  2. Heat to around 90 ℃ while stirring
  3. Throw in 6g Cascade hops and start 45 minute timer, maintain temperature
  4. When 15 minutes remain, add another 6g Cascade, maintain temperature
  5. Fill fermentation vessel with 2 litres ice cold water
  6. Hydrate 5g ale yeast according to manufacturer’s instructions
  7. When the timer’s done, turn off heat and mix in the rest of the LME, transfer immediately to FV
  8. Top up to 8 litre mark with hot / cold water to achieve pitch temperature of 18 or 19 ℃
  9. Stir vigorously for 2 or 3 minutes, take OG reading – should be around 1.044 according to calculator
  10. Add the hydrated ale yeast, fit lid and airlock, leave at 18 or 19 ℃ for 10 days

Brew Notes

Having a plan is all very well, here’s what really happened. These notes were made on-the-fly and I’ve not had a chance to tidy them up, maybe I never will. Bit tired right now.

  • Noticed that Brewer’s Friend recipe shows Cascade as having 7% Alpha Acids, but mine are labelled 4.9%. When I changed the percentage on BF I was too low, so I altered the 45 and 15 minute drops to 10 g each instead of 6 g each.
  • Hops added bang on 90 ℃ and the brew turned green and threatened to foam, but settled down again with stirring
  • Going to pitch 2 x 3g Ale Yeast instead of 5g since I’m using two Ashbeck FVs instead of a single vessel. Instructions say to soak yeast in clean container at fermentation temperature using previously boiled water. Wonder how much yeast I’ll lose since it’ll be a sticky mess instead of an easily pourable sand.
  • Added the remaining 600g LME at the 5 minute stage, temperature dropped to 88.5 ℃ but recovered for the remaining time.
  • Prepped cool bucket with about 2 litres cold water, poured in boil – 94.6 ℃. Topping up to 8 litres took a whole 5 litre bottle of Ashbeck, did I really lose more than a litre of water in boil?!?
  • Even with 5 litres of near-freezing water we’re still too hot at 39 ℃ so I’m dropping this bucket inside a larger one filled with cold water.
  • 15 minutes on and I’ve only dropped 10 ℃. Off to prep the yeast.
  • Digital scales not registering anything as I add the yeast to the two ramekins of previously boiled water, presently at 19℃. Poured most of a 10g bag into one before I realised, tried to correct by emptying the remainder of the bag into the other ramekin and then visually evening it out, which is nearly impossible since it’s a grey sticky mess now. Just going to hope for the best and cross my fingers – 5g of yeast (give or take) per 4 litre FV is quite a lot.
  • Bucket’s still at nearly 30 degrees, way too hot for the yeast. Removed it from the ice bath and decanted into the two 5 litre FVs, the latter of which may have received more hop sediment than the first despite stirring beforehand. I used a funnel instead of the bottling wand, at least both brews are well and truly aerated now. Individual ice baths while I measure SG from the sample collected from the bucket before separating.
  • Gravity comes in at 1.044 – bang on as predicted by the recipe builder. Impressive!
  • Yeast pitched at 21 ℃ and not too difficult, since most of it had dissolved completely in the ramekins and could be poured into the FVs via a funnel, rinsed out using a splash of wort and the turkey baster.
  • Both vessels are using my new airlocks secured with grommets rather than the glued-in bungs I used last time, but at least one of them is leaking as I can see the levels equalise on both sides when I squeeze and release the sides of the bottle. I’ll have a go a drilling some fresh tops tomorrow to see if I can get a better seal for the grommets.

Lessons Learnt

  • Get better at preparing / estimating amount of cold water needed – shouldn’t need to chill with another vessel when there’s a dedicated freezer and plenty of bottled water available.
  • Get some decent scales! Need to be able to measure hops and especially yeast with better accuracy. (done)
My recipe on Brewer’s Friend (PDF version)