happy yeast and smoked porter

Morning! It’s Tom here. Many of you may know that I have a background in biology, but you might not be aware of how my scientific interests and my love of brewing beers and other beverages have, for many years, reinforced each other. I have been brewing for much of my life: from my first forays helping my Dad with his wines, to later penny-pinching as a student using brewing kits from Boots (now, like the photographic film processing side of their business, long gone). Later, there were many youthful brewing experiments, and now, I’m still continuing my determinedly middle-aged attempts at creating what you might refer to as “craft” brews. I began my scientific career in microbiology, and brewing is just one of those processes which always makes me think – wow – microbiology is completely amazing!

Now, you may have tried “home brewed” beer before. I know only too well that some “home brews” might permanently put you off the idea that making your own beer is a viable domestic activity. But I would say that not only is brewing a relatively simple and hugely creative thing to do, but that, if you put your mind to it anyone can make great beer.

The most important thing to consider when brewing your own beer is yeast. In fact, just like sourdough baking that many of us seem to be enjoying at the moment, one of the best ways of thinking about brewing is as a way of culturing and caring for your yeast. If you have happy yeast, you’ll also have great beer. Even if you begin your brewing journey from a beginners kit, and continue to produce kit beers (which can certainly also give great results), you need to think about the happiness of your yeast at all times – just remember – HAPPY YEAST. My top brewing tip for a beginner would be to completely ignore any instruction to pitch dried yeast straight into your brew (for this is the quickest way to that familiar “homebrew taste”). Rather, you should always take the time to produce a starter: create your HAPPY YEAST, and you will also make delicious beer.

As we all currently seem to be exploring different ways of providing for ourselves, I thought I’d share with you one of my own favourite tried and tested recipes. This recipe is for a smooth and smoky porter, with a malty richness, which is balanced by bitterness from dark roasted malts and Northern Brewer and the Fuggles-like Styrian Golding Hops. It’s essentially a cross between an Irish Stout and a German Rauchbier. I call it “Breakfast” Porter because it contains oats (porridge) and tea – two familiar breakfast staples, especially here in our household. And please bear in mind that though this beer is undoubtedly delicious, I don’t recommend that you interpret its name as an instruction, and drink it for breakfast! Kate tells me that in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, many people drank “small beer” like my porter all day long, but I tend to save that pleasure for the evening.

I normally brew my beers using all grain recipes, but this requires a little more equipment and brewing experience. So, to make this recipe more accessible for beginner brewers, I’ve suggested using a malt extract. If you already know your brewing processes, and would like to stick with an all-grain recipe for this beer, simply substitute the malt extract syrup listed below with 4.2kg of Golden Promise, increase the amount of wheat malt to 750g and add 50g to all the other speciality grains. The all-grain mash is carried out at 69C for 1 hr with 11.5 litres (this will make sense to you if you’re already comfortable with the process of all-grain mashing).

At a first glance, you may think the ingredients in my recipe appear somewhat specialised, but most local brew shops can easily provide these ingredients to you via online or phone orders. Look them up. I’m sure they’d appreciate your support.

Weekend Breakfast Smoked Porter

Malt extract for yeast and bottling
500g dry extra light malt extract

Wyeast Irish Ale (1084) Activator pack (or use whichever brewing yeast you prefer)

Speciality grains
450g Bavarian Smoked Malt (crushed)
200g Wheat Malt (crushed)
200g light crystal malt (crushed)
100g Amber Malt (crushed)
200g Chocolate malt (crushed)
200g Black Patent malt (crushed)
200g Porridge oats (lighty toasted)

Malt extract for brewing
3.6kg Light malt extract syrup (e.g. Munton’s)… make sure it’s not hopped. If it is hopped, adjust any added hops according to your taste.

48g Northern Brewer whole hops (7.8% alpha acid)
30g Styrian Goldings whole hops (4.8% alpha acid)

Pot of black tea

Sanitiser (e.g. VWE)
Hydrometer (optional)
Large pan to boil wort (8 litres or more)
Large fermenting vessels x2 (sanitised)
Syphon tube (sanitised)
Funnel (sanitised) (optional)
Bottles and closely fitting lids / crown caps (sanitised)

1. Make your happy yeast starter
Once again, I can’t emphasise this enough… if your yeast is happy, your beer is going to taste good. Add 120g of dry light malt extract to 500ml water and bring to the boil. Continue to gently boil for 5 mins. Transfer to a large sanitised bottle or jar (with room for 500ml plus a foaming head of yeast). Once completely cooled, add the yeast, mix thoroughly and close the bottle, either with a loosely fitting lid, foil wrapped around the top of the vessel or a rubber bung and air lock (the CO2 must escape as the yeast grows or the bottle will explode!). Transfer somewhere warm (20C). The yeast should start fermenting vigorously after 6-24 hours. Let them do their thing for the next 5 days.

2. Crush the speciality grains
If your grains are whole, you need to bash the grains open. You are looking for a very coarse grind, not not powder, Just enough to open the husks… a bash with a rolling pin to grains wrapped in cloth is enough. Easiest though is to buy them pre-crushed!

3. Toast the porridge oats.
Spread the oats out onto a baking sheet and toast for 10 miss or so in a pre-heated oven (180C).

4. Steep the speciality grains.
Heat 6 litres of water to 75C. Add the crushed speciality grains and toasted oats to the hot water. The temperature should stabilise around 65C (add heat, or a little cool water, if necessary to adjust… but anything in the 60C-70C range is fine). Cover the pan with a lid and leave to steep for 30-40 mins. Strain the brewing liquor through a sieve, to remove spent grains, into a second large pan. Leave grains to drain thoroughly then discard. Add the malt extract to the grain liquor and bring to the boil. This malty, sugary liquid will eventually make your beer and is called wort (rhymes with Bert not thought).

5. Boil the wort, adding hops.
Once boiling add 48g of Northern Brewer hops to the wort and mix. Continue boiling for 45 mins. Then add 15g Goldings hops to the wort and mix. Continue boiling for 15 more minutes.

6. Make tea and get ready!
Whilst boiling, make a small pot of black tea and ensure your brewing vessel is sanitised and ready.

7. Add aroma hops and tea.
Add a further 15g of Goldings hops and the tea. Mix thoroughly then strain through a sieve into your fermenting vessel. Add cold water to final volume (22 litres) and leave to cool (it must be 24C or cooler before adding the yeast).

8. IMPORTANT NOTE! Be clean!
It is important that you use sanitised utensils and containers from this point onward. You don’t want anything other than your happy yeast growing in your beer! If you want to take a gravity reading to calculate the final ABV (alcohol by volume), do so now using a sanitised hydrometer. It’s likely to be in the region of 1048 and will give a final ABV of about 5%.

9. Pitch the yeast.
Take the yeast starter and discard most of the liquid from the top, reserving the yeasty sediment and 100ml or so of the liquid. Swirl thoroughly, re-suspending the sediment, then tip into the cooled wort. Mix throughly with a sanitised long handled spoon or paddle, then close. A close fitting lid or air-lock are fine. You want the beer covered but with the gas able to escape.

10. Ferment.
Leave somewhere warm for 4-6 days (ideally at 21C or so). Fermentation should start quickly (within 24 hours) and be pretty vigorous. This is because your yeast are happy. Once fermentation is complete, the bubbles will subside and yeast will begin to settle at the bottom of the vessel.

11. Separate the beer from the sediment.
Using a length of sanitised plastic tubing, syphon the beer away from the sediment at the bottom, decanting to a second sanitised fermenting vessel (if you have one). If not, you can syphon directly to prepared sanitised bottles (see below).

12. Bottle.
Add 1 teaspoon of dry malt extract per pint to each sanitised bottle. Add beer using a syphon tube or sanitised measuring jug and funnel, leaving an inch or so “headroom” at the top of each bottle. Seal each bottle with a sanitised lid. I use bottles which have their own porcelain stoppers, but tightly fitted screw-tops or crown caps work fine too. Just make sure the bottles can tolerate the pressure of secondary fermentation.

13. Leave to condition.
Transfer your bottles somewhere dark (if in clear bottles) and safe and resist the temptation to try the beer for two weeks. The remaining happy yeast will convert the small amount of sugar in each bottle to CO2, giving each bottle a little bit of fizz and a creamy head. After two weeks your beer should be ready for sampling.

Enjoy your weekend breakfast porter and celebrate the wonders of microbiology and happy yeast!

(Singing Happy Yeast to the tune of Happy Feet is entirely optional . . .)