Getting it Right

I’ve been brewing for a little under four years now. In the first instance “brewing” meant up-ending a tin of malt-extract in a bucket, topping it up, pitching the attached sachet of yeast and praying that Chimay Blue would appear in its place. It will be giving little away to anyone who may be reading this, Brewer, Homebrewer or dullard to observe that it never did.

How naive could one man be?

In the meantime I improved: switching to all-grain, refining my process, doing some reading and even managing to place in a few competitions. However. I still don’t rate the beer I produce particularly highly. Now there are undoubtedly a host of reasons, practical and psychological, for this. We are often our own worst critics, but in turn there have been those few brews that really hit the mark. With those tantalizing outliers comes the possibility that the unnamed, unchecked variables could be brought into line. None of this is helped, of course, by the homebrewer’s compulsive habit of brewing something different every time (a tendency that I am only too guilty of).

This dissatisfaction with the general level of my beer was crystallized by some comments from Chris Ives, Ilkley Brewery’s Head Brewer/ Co-owner at the recent Leeds Homebrew event. Whilst talking about the process of developing their Mary Jane Pale Ale, Chris observed that only by changing one variable at a time were they able get a feel for what needed changing and what could be relied on. The concept wasn’t a new one but the perspective was: I have always been impressed by Ilkley’s consistency, particularly for such a young but rapidly growing brewery. It made me think about all the times I’d idly changed the crystal malt or mash temperature on a brew before pitching a yeast I’d never used before. Seems innocent enough but instantly makes it harder to judge if the wort is too dextrinous, if the yeast has attenuated properly, if you got the pitching rate wrong…

That’s more like it.

In this spirit, I have decided to set myself a house beer to brew all year round. Its pale and hoppy, something I shouldn’t tire of too quickly and I’ve based it on my Thornbridge Strong Bitter category winner, Octavian. Hopefully it’ll give me little more insight into all aspects of the brewing process, and if it doesn’t I could always just drink it.

I’ll do a follow up post with recipe and process for Octavian shortly, next up however: a brewday for the Ilkley Homebrew Competition.

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