A Brewing Journey

Discovering brewing and a bit of the 1850s

The beginning

Extracts from forum posts edited

It was suggested that I should blog my grand (overly?) plan to brew like my grandfather (5 times back) in the early to mid 19th century. I plan to post updates. Almost a blog. Pictures? Maybe.

So what does this mean? Background

It means I plan to make an English ale not too far distant from a Fullers Golden Ale. As far as I can tell, this is the approximate to what would have been brewed then. It is likely that my grand father’s brews would have been distributed to ale houses in the Stepney/Whitechapel area of East London – including the old Blind Beggar Inn (see Cray Brothers for why this is interesting) before it was replaced by the existing building in 1899. The family lived in Turner St and had been in the area since the early 18th century. Prior to that the family had been in Chichester, Surrey since the mid 1600s (as far back as family records go) and were a brewing family – gentry in fact, according to an 1830s census. In Turner St, the extended family consisted of 12 and the house had many rooms across two floors. William Guy seems to have worked at the Anchor brewery in Stepney Green between 1825 and 1854 at least. A brewery clerk rather than a brewer per se … why let facts get in the way of a good story.

I wanted to be a scientist when I went to Melbourne University a long time ago. I have a physics and chemistry background and therefore like the idea of experimentation and testing out theories. This is a lot of what appeals to me in doing home brewing. Playing with chemistry sets and testing theories.

What Am I trying to do?

I do a bit of my own backyard sustainability with fruit, citrus, vegetables, honey, corn, olives and nuts the current focus. I was thinking of what else I could do and brewing came to mind when I was writing about the 100th anniversary of my father’s birth last year. It has taken me until this autumn (2018) to get myself ready. You can see what I have done so far as at June 2018 below. What I want to do is to replicate something like what my grandfathers did around 2-300 years ago. Not that I plan to go back to the labour intensive ways of the time and I certainly will use modern equipment, grains and hygiene that were not available then. So what exactly do I plan?

First is to learn about all stages of the brewing process. I will do this by doing my brewing learning in an approximate reverse order of the actual process. The process being:

  1. Plant and grow malting barley and hops. Should be simple, right?
  2. Harvest and malt the barley. A whole new world of pain and learning.
  3. Process the malt and do the “brew”, adding hops. May variations to try
  4. Yeasts and preparation for fermenting. Much to trial and refine here.
  5. Ferment the brew and clarify it. Options include natural settling, finings, crash chilling and filtering
  6. Store and condition and or carbonate. Plenty of options here too.
  7. Bottle in actual bottles and small kegs. Two main options here – just bottle or fill bottles from a keg.
  8. Have friends and other guinea pigs test the results and give me feedback

The whole process is a long one and has quite a lead time. Therefore my approach of trying out the latter parts of the process and “debugging” the process will give me a stable process to follow later. The very labour intensive and time consuming part will be growing, harvesting and malting the grain. Hops similarly but with simpler processing. This means that the grand experiment will take from mid 2018 through to the end of 2019 and most likely beyond.

Apart from the brewing there are several things I want to do as well. First is to look at a refined process that has tested as many tips and guides as I can manage. This is an iterative process that will involve some qualitative and some standardised testing. I am keen to see what equipment and techniques really make a difference. I will offer opinions and evidence on the way. The unfortunate consequence will be that I will have an excess of variable quality beer along the way.


Ok, a little bit anal … The strengths of this venture are that I already make bread, jams, juices and a wide variety of dishes made form home grown produce. I know yeast fairly well. I know how to grow organically and I have the space to do this, having remodelled a quite wide and deep back yard in Kaleen. I have a lot of the equipment needed already (large pots strainers funnels etc). I have large kitchen and laundry sinks. I have space for fermenting (a former hot water tank cabinet). Opportunity: I can be proud of my achievements and the link back to forefathers.
Weaknesses: this is a quest worth of Don Quixote. It will take time and effort. Threats: My home may smell like a brewery. Cost may become high if I commit to too much convenience over hard work. Work may require me to be away for long periods of time

Scientific questions

There are a few things that I think need to be verified. There are many things in life subject to diminishing returns and I am keen to see where these are in home brewing. My findings will relate to what I am doing and not to some other setup or set of objectives. As they say, your mileage may vary. It is me recording what I am after and that is the end of the disclaimer.

Q1: I want to find out what really makes yeast work best. By this I mean what can be done to get the most out of a yeast and what is worth the effort. Dried yeast, liquid etc will be tried

Q2: I want to find out about the water chemistry and how it affects the brew and fermentation – including results.

Q3: I want to see what kinds of scientific equipment work best. Using some I already have and some I plan to borrow and test. One or two devices I will buy because they work and are needed.

Q4: What is the optimal equipment setup for me. This is part of the learning. The concept is to keep it simple and convenient. Regardless, I have low tolerance for things that do not work …

Q5: What are the optimal brewing techniques for achieving a balance of quality beer, simplicity and time effectiveness. Cost may come into it as well but not the most important thing overall. There may be more than one optimum depending on what I find – ie a time optimum and a quality optimum

Q6: Natural/traditional methods for getting clarity in the ale, chill conditioning, filtering. What is the most convenient and effective. Again an optimum is probably the most important thing to find

Q7: Can and should I preserve a yeast and reuse it across multiple brews. The fermenter allows this so it might be a good thing and allow a trial of a premium yeast that is reputedly from Fullers. I understand that my grandfathers were of the opinion that the yeast they used was their competitive advantage.

Q8: Is there a sufficient difference in quality of beer to justify the greater work required for partial grain and full grain brewing techniques. This will be confirmed by third party blind judging from bottles specially prepared with these variations. All other factors will be kept stable. I may even do two at the same time to keep environmental variable consistent.

Q9: What level of housekeeping works best. Another optimum, I suspect. How clean is good enough. Oxygen. Good and bad, just depends on what stage of fermentation? Contaminants? Storage? Those kinds of thing.

Q10: What process to use once the other questions are settled enough to stabilise the process. Especially keen to work on fermentation under pressure.

So – to try a lot of variations, I will need to keep accurate records, label well and form interim hypotheses to test. Then retry based on what I find; and do a bit of regression testing after refining processes

What I have done to date

First I bought a very basic brew kit to see what I thought of the idea. It was ok and yet I was not very pleased with the setup. So I got myself a Fermentasaurus and did a lot of reading. Conical fermenters do seem to have some benefits and the one I have is capable of doing a wide variety of things that can be tested for efficiency and quality of outcomes … ie beer. More specifically, Ale. I think I can do better with temperature control and getting the aerobic and anaerobic processes working better.

I learned the basics of fermenting in three brews. The basics of grain malt and brewing at that level of complexity in one effort at doing a partial grain brew has given me a sense of the next few challenges. Bottling and conditioning experience comes with territory. I decided to buy a few secondhand kegs to store and condition in and to also test the theories about carbonation and clarity. I have a filter system as well so I can test this. I have an order in for 40kg of seed barley that will be sown for a late Summer harvest this year and early harvest (planted in May) next year. I will impose upon members of the club for rhizomes and tips for growing hops. I am currently preparing a 5 x 4 plot for growing intensive barley and several types of hop.

Here are some of the things I have done in a bit more detail:

  • First brew. standard kit beer with the basic fermenter. Discarded it and thought that it might be good to get into distilling … stopped thinking crazy things
  • Second brew. A non-standard kit for an approximation to a dark ale by using dried dark and light malt mix and a tin of dark ale. I bottled this and learned about sediment. Drinkable and not quite what I am after. Sufficiently happy to go a further step. I used a SAFALE 04 yeast.
  • Third brew was one where I have tracked the ingredients and process a but more closely. This used an English Special Bitter standard recipe with dry hopping at the end of fermentation. I used 1 Kg light dry malt, 500g dried dark malt and a can of Ironbark Amber. Yeast was Windsor Danstar dried 11g, prepared like I do for bread making. Dry hopping was done via the Fermentasaurus bulb. I filled this with boiled and cooled water (oxygen removal) to avoid oxygen into the fermenter at a late stage of the process. Dry hops (a teabag version) were left in the fermenter for two days. In the water I had dissolved 50g of dextrose to create secondary fermentation (sort of) and changed the lid to a the pressure lid. I did it this way because I could not buy a pressure release valve as suggested on the Oxebar website/youtube video. Not wanting to risk an explosion if I forgot to release pressure in the tank it seemed the best way to do this. I got enough CO2 pressure to transfer the finished ferment to bottles and a keg, apart from the last 3-4 litres which I decided to discard. I had 25 litres, a 25% increase in volume that aligned with the extra dark malt used. Extra hops seemed a good thing to do. I collected a lot of yeast in the bulb and it does seem possible to preserve a good yeast in one of these things to use again next brew. Theory and reality may be different. I kept the temperature for this ferment between 18 and 19 degrees with a heat plate in the cabinet. The controller is simple and accurate, however relatively expensive if you do not have the sensor and switch already (I did). Overall, more mess and much more thinking involved but potentially a better result.

    Tasting: Well after three weeks in bottles, there is a thick layer of sediment. Clear beer. Slightly yeasty. The PET bottles seem more yeasty and this could be due to which part of the fermenter it came from. Glass (Grolsch) bottles seem to be clearer. Surprisingly, much better than the previous, Batch 2. Clean finish (confirmed by others) and decent aroma. Alcohol is not to strong and not too weak. Colour is reddish gold. Nothing to complain about at all. Still room for improvement and it is an “extract brew” but with dry hopping. The temperature control may have helped.
  • Fourth brew was a further step for me and draws on a few things I learned at the June 2018 club night and my further reading. A mixed grain and dry/kit approach. I decided to standardise on SAFALE 04 as a standard yeast until I start experimenting with different yeasts. This will eliminate one variable from my testing. I prepared the mixed grain using 500g of a crystal grain, 500g of a dark grain and 50g of a dark roasted (black grain). The mix was pre-prepared for me to give me what I was after – ESB to traditional ale. To this I added 1 Kg dry light malt and two Black Rock Light unhopped malt extract tins (the malt content is cheaper by a small margin compared to dry) – this will be around 8-9% ABV. I could have added more dry malt but this is what I chose to do. I did the 75 degree steeping and used a digital remote sensing thermometer to check temperatures – separate item below. I did the mash boil and added Green Bullet hops for the full boil then 12g EK Goldings for 5 minutes and the remaining 25g packet after the boil. Steeped for 30 minutes. Added the malt extract tins and water to 6l. Temperature 52 degrees. Vigorous stirring for 3 minutes. Again 5 minutes later with splashing. Extracted half a cup of wort to use as a starter for the yeast. Diluted to 38 degrees (yes just diluted it to get the temperature correct) checked with the thermometer. Added yeast and stirred to dissolve. Left aside for about 12 minutes until it threatened to overflow a 2l pyrex measuring cup. Put 10l of tap water in the fermentasaurus and then funnelled the wort into the vessel. Added cold water to 22l and checked temp. Added 1 l of 50 degree water and 4 more of cold to get a temp of 24.8 degrees and 27l. Added the frothing yeast to it. Stirred and splashed for 3 minutes. Left covered for 10 minutes. Repeated splashing and stirring. Sealed with Pressure cap. Sterilisation of all parts was with calcium perchlorate. Fermenting as I write. I will be dumping yeast and seeing if this helps clarity and reduces some yeastiness. I have a cunning plan to cold crash the ferment by leaving it overnight outside in the Winter. Not sure if I will do this on batch 4 or not.

First taste test of Batch 4.

Clear and bright
Strong flavour. Good malt. Nothing negative standing out
Hop flavours there and probably can be a bit more bitter
Yeasty. This is good and bad. Possibly to much yeast that distracts form other flavours. However the style demands some yeast aroma and esters. Can do better

It is amber coloured and the bubbles are nicely defined. After only 5 days, it seems to be settling down nicely. Wondering what filtering might do from here. I am guessing that if it removes yeast the yeasty flavour will be reduced.

Two weeks on and Batch 4 is ready for bottling and a keg. Half filtered and half not – at least in the bottles. New sanitiser will be phosphoric acid based. I have the ability to use little CO2 bulbs to push the filtration along and get the last out of the fermenter.

Short story made long: Trying to filter, I had leaks. I stopped the flow and gave up for this brew. The filtered vs unfiltered testing will be with a following Batch. Filtering requires plumbing skills. I now know a lot more about loctite than I used to. I also know a lot more about fittings and tubing, connectors. I know why people have CO2 Bottles that are big and full of lots of gas rather than use the convenient small bulbs and/or sodastream bottles. Did I mention that SodaStream bottles and the adaptor are potentially dangerous? Well, here is what I found – 2 gas bottles later. Screwing in the adaptor releases a jet of very cold CO2 as you screw the gas bottle in. If your fingers are in the way they freeze – unless you put the whole lot down to prevent those frozen fingers and let the gas escape … Another loverly undocumented feature … So having tightened the cylinder to stop the leak, I found that the regulator needed adjusting very low so the bottle emptied itself through the pressure release valve while I figured that out. Cue up the second bottle. Lose a lot of gas while screwing into the adaptor.

On to transferring the beer to a keg and bottling. First thing I did was to try squirting CO2 into bottles. Mistake. I will only try this again once I have a full sized gas bottle and other dedicated equipment. Tubing and a ball valve to shut the gas off is possible but seems wasteful. Something like a counterflow filler and proper gas lines seems to be what I need – or just do what I did last time and pour the beer into the bottle and so not stress about the air in the bottle. I used a small bulb of CO2 transferring the last of the beer from the fermenter to a keg. I left 20l in the fermenter and filled the keg with 18.5l as per the measure on the side of the fermenter. The last bit I poured down the sink. Overall about 3 litres out of 27 lost to wastage of one sort or another.

What went into the bottles seems clear and promising. Lets see what happens. I put 5g of dextrose per bottle because there was already carbonation from the fermenter. A week in the cold but not outside in sub zero temperatures seemed to leave clear beer and precipitated yeast. I removed a bulb of yeast and trub first up and there was more than another bulb (each half a litre) at the end. Alcohol should be about 8%.

I really need to have much more convenient ways to do the transfers and bottling, if I am to have a consistent process. SodaStream gas bottles end up being fairly expensive compared to the price of bulk CO2 refills for a 6 kg bottle. Now I have a full keg that will need some extra CO2 … more learning involved, I suspect.

Next Steps

First I will test the effect of filtering on Batch 4. My plan is to keep five bottles of filtered and five bottles of unfiltered ale. I will label the bottles and do a comparative test to see if there are discernible differences in taste and cloudiness. The filtered bottles will not have secondary fermentation. They will be carbonated separately via a keg. The naturally conditioned bottles will probably not have secondary fermentation either and if they do it will be 2-3 g of dextrose because they will already be carbonated from the fermenter. I will take these from the top which will mean higher carbonation and lesser sediment, in theory.

Comparative taste testing will commence. A neat little challenge to one’s cognitive biases.

I will do a brew or two more along the lines of batch 4 and refine my process and bring together any additional equipment I might need. I have purchased some large bags of malt grain uncrushed and will add that part of the processing to my repertoire in the next batches. Over the next few batches, I will vary the mixture of partial grain and extracts. Moving on to perhaps a grain only batch in September. This is what will allow me to stabilise and perfect the process. From October on, I may need to consider a refrigerator to maintain temperatures. Winter seems to be a good time to brew in Canberra.

Planting of barley and hops and finding out about malting. Possibly buying some equipment to make that work. Getting feedback on what I have made. All that awaits.

This remote sensing thermometer is what I used to check temperatures. It works quickly, easily, is good with liquids and importantly works well with a fermentasaurus. Accuracy is within a degree and you can get more accuracy for a higher price. See below. Note it uses a laser. Avoid looking a reflective surfaces such as stainless steel. Shine it at an angle that reflects away from you. You do not get an accurate reading of contents of a stainless steel vessel. You need to measure the temperature at the liquid surface. Not the bubbles. Not utensils etc.



Ok, I like the design. There are some suggestions that I have passed back to the manufacturer. The top opening needs to be bigger. Bigger so I can get my arm in to undo the butterfly assembly and clean it all. Bigger to make it easier to pour the contents of a large pot into the vessel (I do use a broad flat funnel that is also useful for making tomato passata and jams) without spillage.

I would like to see calibration points for the volume measure clearly defined. I think that the pressure kit should have the adjustable pressure relief valve and its gauge included or at least an optional kit package. To my mind it is essential. There are a couple of other things that you probably need as well: something like the party kits that are sold for filling a growler makes it easier to transfer the finished ale and to keep carbonation levels up as well. This device can substitute somewhat for the variable pressure relief valve but it is much messier to manage it that way.

Maintaining and monitoring temperature could probably be improved. The simple temperature indicating liquid crystal is fine until you need to cover the vessel to maintain a consistent diurnal temperature and still monitor it. Relatively minor points, but then if one aim is to provide a stable fermentation temperature it might matter. I have rigged up a monitor and switch that uses standard home automation components to switch a heat pad on and off to keep the temperature around 18-19 degrees. This works ok in Winter here but would not be so effective in warmer months.

Of course it does look like one should have a CO2 tank and the fittings to do some of the more advanced things with the vessel.

Then, I have another wish. Wheels and a lifter. I can move around 25 Kg with relative ease but it is not a good thing for an ageing back. A lifter/jack/elevator would be great … perhaps my wishing is going a bit far. Would be good for helping manage transfers better, regardless.


I like to be sustainable, efficient and relatively low impact on the environment. Just living a Canberra lifestyle is a large impact on the environment. So what about the ale making? It uses quite a bit of water, produce and equipment. Heat, cooling and all the rest. How does this fit?

To be brutally honest, it does not make a lot of sense. Breweries can do this much more efficiently with economies of scale. Some do a really good job with a quality beer. I can rationalise this way … most of the energy used to supply me with a carton of ale is used in transporting, storing and selling it. If I do it myself then I can save at least some of that. Using bulk materials and leveraging solar heated water and generated electricity means the marginal impact is reduced. Using a lower water process helps as well, compared to that of industrial brewers. Using the waste grain for compost (perhaps chickens even) helps to close the loop. Then there is the possibility of growing and malting myself and the reduction of energy consumption that provides.

Overall, probably not a bad thing.

Are we happy?

What is happiness even…

This is a good question. Treat the questions below like a quiz. Consider your answer then have a look at what I have written. Do it in order please. Go for it. Comment.