Diary of a lockdown home brewer: Part 2: Choosing ingredients and how to start mashing

It certainly gets a bit more messy in this next step. A floor so sticky it steals your shoes and white clouds of grain dust peppered all over your clothes is what you’re in for if you brew like me.

Last week’s instalment was all about getting the kit ready, or at least trying to. But this session is focusing on the ingredients and starting the brew – much more exciting.

For those of you who have just joined, I am doing a six part series on my first experience home brewing a Christmas stout.

Coming up with a recipe idea wasn’t too challenging with Christmas round the corner and the winter nights drawing in. Cinnamon sticks, star anise, ginger and orange were an obvious choice (they’ve got me thinking about mulled wine now).

I will be writing an article each week about my experience brewing a Christmas stout. This is part two.

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Unlike wine making, where you would normally leave the grapes to work their magic creating non-grape flavours such as grapefruit, minerals, earth and cake - the list goes on - in beer making it turns out you can add all sorts to your brew. Well I say all sorts, as with most things, there’s probably a limit.

Spices are optional, I just thought if all else fails then at least, with a bit of seasoning, there will be some sort of festive spirit in the glass at the end, even if it’s not beer.

The most important ingredients though, are the grains.

Grains

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A list of the ingredients I used to make the beer. I also added cinnamon sticks, orange peel, star anise and fresh ginger.

A good ‘base grain’ is needed for a stout. You can find out about these where you can find out most things - Google.

I went for pale malt because it’s been described as ‘a great all rounder’ which is the kind of team player you want when trying something new. I’m not ready for niche just yet.

For your other grains which are added for flavour, you need to think about what you want to taste in a stout.

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I thought of chocolate immediately, for my unforgivable sweet tooth, and then coffee to go with it. These flavours aren't exactly novel stout flavours, they’ve been done before, many times, so it’s a good start.

Pouring the grains into the muslin bag inside bucket one which should be inside bucket two at this point. Hold your breath, it gets a little dusty.

Roasted barley brings out a fresh morning coffee taste and chocolate malt is a winner for those melt-in-the-mouth chocolate flavours (in case it wasn’t obvious.)

I’ve also thrown in some crystal malt which gives off a caramel tang and raw cacao nibs for an extra chocolatey boost. Sounds like we’re making pudding.

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One tip I learnt from leaning on my fellow brew crew is adding a handful of oats can bring out a more creamy texture and flavour to a stout. Sounds wonderful doesn’t it?

Finally I finished with Rauchmalz - a Bavarian smoked malted barley - partly because the name made me feel like I was on holiday in Babmberg drinking beer, but also because it’s been dubbed ‘the rarest malt of all’ which obviously made me want it even more.

Looking snug. On top here are the raw cacao nibs to give an extra chocolatey flavour if that's your thing. Use some clothes pegs to hold the muslin bag in place ahead of the mash as shown.

Before you get covered in grain, bring a large stockpot of water to the boil - I prepared about 8.5L for the amount of grain I’m using. I have a confession that most will probably take a huge disliking to. I boiled water in a stockpot that I found hidden deep in the depths of a cupboard that is rarely opened. I thought I had washed it properly but the more the water heated up, the more stock-like odours penetrated the room masking the smell of my precious Bavarian malt. The pot was quickly removed and replaced with one that will certainly not leave my beer tasting like an Oxo cube.

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Recipe

Now weigh the grains! Here are the quantities I went for:

2000g of pale malt

200 grams of crystal malt

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250g of flaked oats

Gradually add the boiling water to your muslin bag of grain using a jug. I have been using a 1 to 2.5 grain to water ratio.

120g of chocolate malt

120g of roasted barley

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250g bavarian smoked malt

40g hops (for later)

10g yeast (for later)

Spices: two cinnamon sticks, skin from one orange, two star anise and tbsp fresh ginger.

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With the grains prepped, it’s time to get mashing - the technical term for this next step (mashed happens at the very end).

Place bucket number one with the holes in the bottom (see article one for further details) into bucket number two with the tap attached – it should rest on inside screw for the tap, creating a small gap between the buckets’ bases.

Then you need to put your muslin bag inside bucket number one and fill it with grains. I loved the smell of the smoked Bavarian malt as I was pouring it in, so much I inhaled most of the grain dust coming off it and almost died VERY loudly.

Mashing

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Once your water is at about 80C (use a temperature measurer if you can, guessing it might be a bit rogue) you can pour it on top of the grains in batches using a jug. Use a big spoon and stir to make sure there are no dry pockets left until it’s all in.

It’s good to check the temperature of the grains during the mash which should be between 63-70C. A lower temperature will give you a dryer, boozier beer while a higher one will give you a sweeter taste.

Remember my duct taped tap from my first article? Well, it failed. It failed big time.

While leaving the grains so soak I was blissfully unaware for about 15 minutes before suddenly spotting a large, ominous pool of steaming brown liquid sliding sinisterly across the table.

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Whatever was in sight that could be used to mop was immediately thrown on the malty puddle and I tended straight to the tap. Off came the embarrassing amount of duct tape holding it togethr which resulted in the wort – the liquid produced from the mashing process – splurting into my face and all over the dog, who just looked at me in utter disgust. Is splurt even a word? It is now.

Rather than wallowing in the moment that felt like life’s ultimate nadir at the time I managed to push the tap in at a certain angle that stopped the leak and used a chair as a weight to hold it in place before duct taping it up again.

Next, a terrifying tightrope act ensued.

I hovered over the tap, like Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible, waiting for a drip. But hooray, not a tipple to be seen.

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With no ongoing leak I decided to carry on letting the mash take place. It’s good to let the grains soak – during this process the enzymes are now acting on starch and releasing fermentable sugars. Yum.

I think that’s enough drama for today before I tell you about what happens next. At least the house is redolent with the rich smell of chocolate malt.

Next week’s piece will be all about the next step: sparging. You can’t possibly miss that, even the word is fun to say.

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Stir the grains with a big spoon making sure to eliminate all dry pockets!
Check the temperature. Ideally mashing should happen between 63-70C. For a sweeter beer, keep the temperature at the higher end. For a dry more alcoholic beer, mash at a slightly cooler temperature.

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Quick trip to the bathroom to wash the sticky malt of this disgruntled little one's face following the splurt.
My tap trying to hold in the wort. Duct tape and a chair leaning on it to hold it in place is what we are going for for the moment until I figure something else out.
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