In the depths of winter I sat in the snug, the heavy smell of paraffin mixed with that of pie and Bass. We sat opposite a hero, talking about what we had just flown, the roar of 27L of British thunder still buzzing in our ears
My friends have accused me of being old fashioned throughout the years, however I just insist that some things can’t be improved upon. There is a pub which exemplifies this point. Located deep in Lincolnshire approx. 5miles from a ‘disused’ airfield, it was once the haunt of brave young men who fought to keep us free. A few miles have been added to the clocks of these old boys, but the pub remains the same. Lit only by oil lamps, pies kept warm in an oil fired cabinet and no lager to be seen on the taps, it became a favourite of the MMDS during my final years at school and beyond. Its mystery, unlike so much else, never faded………………..
During one of those hazy evenings, after adding a few more hours to my log book, I sat with my two closest friends, Ginger (sadly no longer with us) and Morley, and said no matter what happened we must not let these echoes of the past slip away. Afterall
“Memory is the storeroom of the mind. A dusty attic of experience filled with knowledge; sometimes useless; sometimes priceless.But once in a while we must cast aside the shades, and with our dustily relics try to recapture the past. For in there lies reason for the present and hope for the future”
Let’s face it, most men have wanted to brew their own beer. A few will have tried with homebrew kits and got varying results. So, in memory of Ginger I thought it was finally time I gave brewing a go and keep the memory of those MMDS trips alive.
Here is to hope for the future: Oil Lamps, homemade pies and beer………..
There is one undisputed king of beers, Bass! It is a very drinkable, lightly hopped English pale ale and in reality should only be drunk in half so you can keep going back for more. It’s also got the worlds first trademark, a red triangle which I learnt on a trip to the Bass museum a few weeks ago.
Wandering around the museum, beer in hand, I stumbled upon an elderly gentleman lurking around what appeared to be bunch of barrels and a trough. Trying to work out what it was I finally asked him, he explained it was part of the BurtonUnion system once used to brew beer. These turned out to be needlessly complicated and most were scrapped in the 50s, but as the elderly gentleman told me, beer tastes better brewed in them (I know the science but don’t ask)………….
One thing the MMDS members realised is don’t get me drunk and let me loose near something mechanical, I can revise engineer it in minutes. So, I did!!!! And thus with the use of meccano, tubing, an old ban Marie and a couple of 5L mini kegs, a Miniature Burton Union was made as well as a mash tun and sparging equipment…………..
Beer is made using malt, hops, water and yeast. It’s then left to ferment and after about 2 weeks you transfer into casks to condition for another 2 weeks. You can buy good malt extracts but I wanted to keep mine as close to the original as possible so I am using malt. The yeast is one I managed to propagate from a pint of Bass from my local as well to make it even more authentic.
- 4oz Crystal malt
- 3lb Pale malt
- 7oz Brewers sugar
- 0.4oz + 0.16oz + 0.1oz Goulding hops
- 0.8oz Fugggles hops
- Irish moss
Start by allowing the malt to mash in approx 7L of water. This should be kept at a steady 66c and the malt being agitated from time to time to allow full exposure to the water. This can be done by sealing the malt in a cloth bag and steeping it like a giant tea bag. Or if you have a lot of spare meccano you can build a system to suspend the malt in to baskets which then pump the water constantly over it. This needs to continue for 1.5hrs to allow full extraction.
After 1.5hrs have passed (and you’ve repaired the pump a few times), you need to drain the liquid into a pan of boiler for the next step. But you haven’t finished with the malt just yet. This is still covered in lots of natural sugar which are removed in a process called sparging. Basically you pass warm water over the malt and collect this for boiling. I again used the recycling system to spare the grain. You need approx 3L in total.
You should have now collected approx 10L of liquid which is known as wort. This contains the sugars which will be converted into alcohol by the yeast. This needs to be flavoured and the bitterness added by hops. This occurs in 2 steps. Firstly the Fuggles hops and the first batch of Golding hops are added and the wort boiled for 1.5hr along with the Irish moss. The helps keep the beer clear.
Then, just at the end more flavouring aromatic Golding hops are added and the liquid allowed to steep for 10-15mins.
The wort now needs to be cooled rapidly to stop the high temperature degrading the delicate flavour of the hops. This can be done by passing the wort through a length of tubing submersed in a sink of ice cold water. The aim is to reduce it down to 20-25, so it can take a few passes. Sugar can then be added to reach a target specific cavity of 1.045.
Once cooled, the yeast can be added and then the mixture transferred to the Union.
The idea of a Burton Union is that as the yeast ferments it produces gas, alcohol, but also a foam on the top. This is forced up the copper swan pipe and into a trough at the top. This trough collects yeast and fermenting beer which is then returned to the Union Barrells. This not only allows you to not waste beer (a sin) but also allows the yeast strains to be uniform throughout all the barrels.
Now it’s just a case of waiting.
After 2 weeks the Unions will slow down their production and the Specific gravity will have fallen to around 1.020. Now you have technically got beer but it’s very young and needs to be conditioned. More barrels to the rescue. Transfer the beer via siphon to the aging casks avoiding transferring all the sediment which will have collected at the base. To the beer, add a priming liquid of water and sugar and more Golding hops (I had some spare pellet type so used them-not a great fan). Also you can add the finings at this point to aid in clearing.
Again wait- 2 weeks till you can drink.
So after 2 weeks,the beer is ready for tapping. Ideally you should keep in a cool room or cupboard and leave a day for it to settle if you move it. Remove the cap and plug the hole with a breathable material, like soft wood. Recap if you finish drinking but not done finishing the barrel.
The big question is what to drink it with………. Memories oh dearest memories – Steak and Ale pie I think 😉