For professional brewers, late summer and early autumn is an exciting time. This time of year, is hop harvesting time, which means a fresh supply of the plant that gives so much flavour and aroma to beer. With loads of different varieties of hop plants, plus new experimental hops being produced regularly, it means brewers can not only continue to brew their tasty core ranges of beers, but also get a little bit creative too.
Usually, hop harvests are dried out and vacuum packed for continuous use throughout the year. However recently, there has been a growing trend of taking some of these freshly harvested hops, and brewing with them immediately. This is called ‘fresh hop’ or ‘wet hop’ brewing. Two years ago, I planted my own hop plant in the garden and this year gave me my first harvest; a perfect opportunity to try a wet hop brew.
I’ve been a homebrewer for a few years now. My first ever home brew was something called an ‘extract kit’. This is basically adding water to a thick, concentrated, hop and malt mix, and then fermenting it. Not exactly brewing the traditional way, but a good way to get into homebrewing and learn the process. Immediately I was hooked and went straight into ‘all grain’ brewing, which is brewing with malt grain and hops, rather than extract kits.
When you first wander into the all grain homebrewing world it can be quite daunting. If you are familiar with how professional brewers brew beer, you will know it involves various vessels for each stage of brewing. When you first start researching what you need to home brew, you’ll see that there are lots of different techniques and equipment!
After plenty of research, I settled on the ‘brew in a bag’ method of home brewing. This technique means that you only need one vessel for all the stages up until fermentation, which immediately saves on space and money. So, I have one tea urn, which acts as my mash tun and kettle (I got one from Amazon, there are loads to choose from of varying sizes). I then have a separate large pot for liquid transfer, and finally a fermentation vessel (a Big Mouth Bubbler bought from Beerhawk).
I’ve primed the technique now so that it probably takes me around four hours from start to finish. Here’s detail on the technique I use:
Some key bits of information:
- I use BrewersFriend computer software to help design my recipes
- My tea urn has had the temperature control thermostat removed, so it can reach a rolling boil.
- I brew to produce around 10 litres of beer
- Cleaning and sanitising everything is essential
- I prepare my sparge water in the tea urn. I boil to just short of boiling point and then pour into the separate pot, covering with a lid.
- Then, I heat my strike water (this is water used for the mash) in the tea urn, to around 80°C
- I turn off the tea urn when the temperature is reached. I then put in my mash bag and add my malt. The mash bag is quite large so I peg it to the side of the tea urn for easy access to what’s inside. I leave the mash for one hour, but keep checking and stirring every ten minutes. The temperature needs to stay between 65°C and 75°C. If needed, I turn the tea urn back on for a bit to add some heat.
- The sparge water has usually dropped a bit in temperature by this point, so I re-heat this on the hob to around 80°C just before the hour is up.
- At the end of the hour, I switch on my tea urn and heat up to around 80°C, constantly stirring. I then pour in the sparge water and stir for a few more minutes. Leaving the tea urn on, I then lift out the mash bag and squeeze it so all the liquid is extracted. Be careful as this bit can be very hot! Once done, the malt is then no longer required.
- I remove the malt from the bag and put it back into the tea urn, once again pegging to the side.
- Once boiling point is reached, it’s time to start the next phase which is hop addition. I add hops at different intervals during a one-hour boil, depending on my beer recipe. Hops added at the start of the boil provide bitterness, those later in the boil add characteristic flavours and aroma.
- After the hour, I switch off the tea urn and, using the tap on the front, I transfer the liquid (wort) to the separate pot. Once transferred, the wort needs cooling as quickly as possible to 25-35°C. To achieve this, I have an ice bath set up in my kitchen sink.
- Once the wort is cooled, I then transfer into my fermenting vessel and add the yeast.
- After a week, the wort has fermented and become beer. I then bottle this and after at least 2 weeks, it’s good to drink.
I have always used dry, vacuum packed hops before. With wet hops, you need to use more of them because of the additional water content. This meant a bit of guess work as to how much to use! This was outside my comfort zone as I usually have exact weights figured out beforehand. Also, with the hops being freshly picked and used immediately, there is more of a risk of the beer getting infected.
Thankfully, as I draft this blog, the fermentation has finished and the beer is tasting, well, like beer! I find home brewing a fun and rewarding experience, even if it can be hard work sometimes. But, there was something a little extra this time. It felt a little more special knowing that I had used hops grown in my garden to make this beer.
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