Brewday: A Mild? Or Not-So-Mild? Northern Brown Ale

Well, I may have screwed up my English mild. (See the update at the end of the post for how it became a Northern Brown Ale.)

It’s boiling now. I got the color basically right, the mash was good, the gravity was nice (though I think I overcrushed the grain) but… well, I put in the hops for first wort hopping, and then got distracted when the wort was starting to boil. There was only a very mild boilover, but it was impossible for me to figure out how much of the ounce of hops ended up on the stovetop. So I ended up throwing another half-ounce into the boil pot.

That’s probably slight overkill, but I may still end up under 25 IBUs. I don’t know that I will, but I should come close. I hope so — for many beers, a difference of 5 IBUs would not be such a big deal, but for a beer that’s under 4% alcohol, balance would become a serious issue. That said, there’s a lot of dried up hops along the side of my kettle, and on the stove top. I shall have to hope I guesstimated right, or at least didn’t overdo it by too much.

The recipe is here, but there are a few noteworthy details I should add:

  1. I originally planned only a 60 minute boil, then 90, and then I oversparged… so 120 minute boil it is. If the wort condenses down too much, I’ll just add some water till it hits the right gravity. Once again, I really must (a) get my cooler MLT set up, and (b) get a handle on hitting my target gravity and volume.
  2. The “molasses” on the recipe is actually molasses sugar (which I picked up in Bangsan market, in the baking area). I put molasses because I wanted to get the coloring right. It’s a rich, delicious dark sugar, and I am going to use the other box I got in something dark and wonderful, maybe a stout or something Belgian. I added the sugar early because (a) I don’t mind if it caramelizes a bit and (b) I wanted to lower hop utilization, since as soon as I pitched in an extra half-ounce, I realized it might be too much. I then realized that, if it is too much, it will still be too much anyway, and, duh, more sugar means better hop utilization. (Argh!)

If the wort tastes insanely hoppy, I may just have to add some malt extract and call it a brown ale instead.

Ah well, live and learn. It should still be a fine beer, even if it takes some doing before the night is through. For those who want to see the original recipe, it’s here. No guarantees I’ll be following it exactly tonight, though.

UPDATE (27 April 2011): I’m updating now, as I finished up brewing last night so late I didn’t have time to update then. I did indeed end up adding some 550 grams of light DME to the wort, to bring up the gravity to the accepted range for a Brown Ale (the northern type, at least; not sure about how in-style the beer will be, however. I’m not massively concerned, as I’m sure it will be drinkable and enjoyable either way… but I do definitely want to make sure that the next batch of wort I pitch onto this yeast cake will be turning into a mild, as I promised Miss Jiwaku a batch of that for her to enjoy. (And she is very curious to find out what a Mild tastes like. For that matter, so am I.)

The good news is that should be quite achievable… all I need to do is start focusing on hitting my target volume, and my target OG. This wort would have been the right OG for a 5-gallon batch, had I been able to stop boiling it at that point. (I boiled it down further than intended, because I ended up wanting to really boil the light DME for a little while: the extract had sat in a bag in my brewing closet for long enough that I wanted to be sure it wasn’t infected with something.)

In any case, I’ve learned a lesson about first wort hopping: if you’re boiling a large volume of wort, you need to make sure that the hops don’t boil over in the foam. I haven’t had a boilover in quite some time, and this case wasn’t outright disastrous, but it’s a good reminder of something to watch out for.

When all is said and done, I’m still looking forward to seeing how this beer turns out. It’s my first time using the London Ale yeast, and I’m curious to compare it to the ESB I have fermenting (now, very sloooooowly) with Cry Havoc yeast.

(My longer term plans for this yeast cake — if I like the flavour and characteristics that the London Ale yeast brings to the beer — involve a Mild, then maybe a Bitter (if I like the current batch of Bitter I’ve got going) or a Stout or two, and then, when a nice big yeast cake is built up, most likely, a Barleywine. It’s a good strong yeast for up to 11% alcohol, and often used for the heavy beers in that style. Of course, I’ll be setting one half of the yeast cake aside and not using it it in the Barleywine, as the stress would likely make it unusable for milder beers. Whether I end up making more bitters and milds depends on my results, though it’s inevitable that I’ll be brewing up a stout or two this year; I have some Irish ale yeast I’ll use for one, but for the other, I suspect this will be the yeast I’ll turn to.)

A confession: I rather suspect I’d want to make a barleywine with a good, strong Belgian yeast, as I may like the characters it will impart better. So we’ll see, as I think I won’t make more than one or at most two barleywines this year. The suckers need to be aged a long time, which means a lot of bottles being filled up and sitting. Then again, this lends some advantage to the fact I have bottles and kegs: the stuff that needs long in-bottle aging can go into bottles, freeing up most of the kegs for beer that will move faster. (With only a few reserved for bulk aging.)

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