Brewing for Hazy Lazy Summer Days
Thank Dog the Indian Summer is Here...
... 'cos I started thinking about writing this column several months ago, but took so long to finish it that the traditional summer months have been and gone.
Traditionally most brewing in the UK has taken place in the winter. There are a number of reasons for this, the two main ones being that it is much easier to avoid contamination in cold weather (there are less bugs about) and fermenting at a colder temperature causes yeasts to produce the cleaner crisper flavours generally preferred by British beer drinkers. These two reasons are actually closely linked, since one form of contamination common in the summer is wild yeast which can lend beer tart, sweet and sour, funky flavours not at all common in British ales.
Even when brewing with a pure uncontaminated cultured yeast, warm fermentation conditions can produce fruity, banana and clove-like flavours from the esters and phenols created. Such flavours can mask the hop and subtle malt characters highly prized in traditional British beers.
So how can we produce great beer in the summer? One solution is to ferment in temperature controlled vessels and this is what most commercial breweries do. An easier and, I feel, more satisfying approach for the home-brewer is to produce beers that are immune to or actually benefit from warmer fermentation temperatures.
The rich complex flavour profile of porters and stouts can easily deal with a moderate fruity contribution from esters and phenols, and may even be improved and balanced by them. When brewing this type of beer in the summer it would be fine to use the same yeast with which you would normally brew the beer but sensible to brew in the coolest part of your house. That said, don’t worry about temperature too much – your beer will turn out fine. I have had great success brewing the Sheffield Stout Porter in the hottest part of the British summer. Stouts and porters improve with time in the bottle, so brew them now for drinking in the autumn and winter.
Many Belgian, German and other continental styles, usually brewed with wheat or Pilsner malts, actually require high fermentation temperatures to achieve their classic flavours. If you like the funky fruity citrus and banana flavours associated with wheat beers like Hoegaarden and Franziskaner you’ll like beers produced in this way. These beers are brewed using special yeasts that impart beautiful flavours when fermenting up to and sometimes beyond 30˚C. My current favourite, and the yeast supplied in our kits, is Neale Brewing Supplies’ Saison Yeast. Try the Pacific Foam or Saison of Satan both of which use this yeast.
Amazingly, some continental beers actually depend on ‘contamination’ by wild yeast for their classic flavour. These Lambic beers are very distinctive with dry, vinous, and cidery notes. They usually have a sour aftertaste. This summer, I brewed a beer with wild Sheffield yeast by placing a sheet of muslin over the top of an open fermenting-vessel full of wort and leaving it under the apple trees in my back garden. Whilst it certainly worked (it produced a very alcoholic beer) it tasted pretty awful! More experiments are required! If you’re keen trying this you can always split a batch. Ferment half with the supplied yeast and leave half in the pan in the garden under a layer of muslin. Just remember to bottle each half of the brew with only half the bottling sugar – or else you will be making some nasty bottle bombs!
If the promised Indian Summer doesn’t arrive you can still brew delicious summer beers out of season. Ideally find somewhere where the temperature is a steady 25?C or there about, an airing cupboard for instance, and brew in there. If you haven’t got such a warm place in your house ferment in the warmest place you have and insulate the tub inside the wool blankets and cardboard box supplied with the kit. Fermentation is an exothermic process so if you insulate the tub it will heat itself up! Either way you should produce delicious summer beer.
The tart flavour of many summer ales can be varied and potentially improved by the addition of fruit. Often the sugars in the fruit will fully ferment out leaving an even more tart and wine like beer with only subtle hints of the fruit you added. The best way to achieve this using my kits is to bring around 300g or two cups of your fruit of choice to a simmer in 100ml of water or vodka. Simmer this for 5 mins then cool for 20 mins or so before adding it with your final hop addition (at the end of step 3). Virtually any soft fruit is suitable. I have successfully used raspberry, strawberry, peach and cherry. You can even use some vegetables - rhubarb makes a fantastic addition to a Saison.
If you prefer your fruit beers to be sweet, this can be achieved in one of two ways. You can reduce the quantity of bittering hops to allow some additional sweetness to come through from the malt. Alternatively, you can add non-fermentable sugars such as lactose when you bottle the beer. The advantage of adding lactose when you bottle is you can adjust the quantity to taste - but make sure you do this before adding your fermentable bottling sugar!
One great advantage of summer ales is they tend to condition very quickly. Generally they are ready to drink after only one week in the bottle. So you may still be able to turn out a delicious summer beer before Autumn gets here... and if not, well, your beer will be a lovely reminder of hot lazy summer days.