It's All Change...

Following a great 2 years at 38 Corn Street it's time to move on. We'll be closing the shop on January 21st.

Our plan has always been to introduce selling craft beers and wines alongside brewing supplies. This isn't possible from our current location so we're setting sail for greener pastures.

2017 will see the launch of our first beer which is designed and brewed by us. 

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SS Technologies Brewmaster Fermentation Bucket

We now have in stock SS Technologies stainless steel Brewmaster Bucket.

This stainless steel fermenter will last you a lifetime. The benefits of stainless steel over plastic include plastic becoming brittle over time and splitting, any scratches in the plastic harbour bacteria which could harm your brew, strong flavours such as very hoppy or spiced beers can stick to the plastic and effect subsequent brews.

Made from certified food grade 304 stainless steel the Brewmaster Bucket has a conical bottom to minimise the surface area of your beer which is contact with the sediment. Clamp down lid ensures vessel is completely airtight with a hole for airlock or blow off tube. They are stackable allowing multiple brews to be on the go at any one time. Rotatable racking arm ensures no sediment gets through the tap into your finished beer. Comes with thermowell and LCD temperature gauge.

Learn How to Brew

We're running an All Grain Brewing Course on Thursday 3rd November offering you the opportunity to learn how to make great beer at home. 

This course is aimed at people who are familiar with brewing from beer kits and want to make the step up to all grain brewing. If you have not brewed previously, but want to start by brewing all grain beer, this course will be suited to you as well. 

The course will start at 6pm and run until 9pm (latest) with a short break for sandwiches & beer. We will demonstrate and explain the stages of all grain brewing on a homebrew scale. Following this course attendees will be able to brew all grain beer for themselves using readily available equipment.

£35 including food & drink.

Following the course you will be offered 10% off purchases made from Hops & Vines.

The course will be held at Bampton Village Hall, OX18 2JJ. There is parking in the centre of Bampton and the Village Hall looks directly onto the car park.

Please contact us if you have any questions and to book your place on the course. Payment to be made at the time of booking.

Click here to book online.

Isinglass - a gelatine made using fish swim bladder - is used to make beer crystal clear

Some people will already know a lot of finings are not vegetarian. Everyone else will be surprised at the revelation but after a little reading understand how this is the case and move on. It's an interesting aspect of brewing and very nice to see it getting 'air-time' on the BBC news website. Click here to read the article.

This is admittedly a wheat beer (which should be cloudy) but you get the idea...

This is admittedly a wheat beer (which should be cloudy) but you get the idea...

The journalist, Liam Barnes, writes really well on the use of Isinglass as a fining to clear beer. What's most refreshing about the article is it asks: do we need to clear our beers?

Using finings isn't the end of the world by any means (unless you're a vegetarian maybe) but it could be unnecessary and therefore worth changing the current perception.  A lot of beer drinkers question every single hazy beer served to them, even slightly hazy beer. Yet a lot of dry hopped beers will appear slightly hazy, this isn't an indication that it's gone off, or that you're drinking from the bottom of the barrel, it's just a sign that the oils from the hops (which are released in abundance when you dry-hop) have imparted a beautiful fruity, citrusy, floral note to beer. The oils have slightly emulsified in the beer and left a faint haze - nothing more sinister than that (...and that's not even sinister in and of itself).

Drink hazy beer sometimes, unless your landlord is trying to sell you the dregs and call it 'real ale'!

Wychwood Forest Fair

We had a great time at Wychwood Forest Fair chatting to people about apple pressing and cider making, visiting the other rural craft sites and eating some delicious food. There was no shortage of enthusiastic volunteers to give apple pressing a try. See you all again next year!

Apple Pressing at Wychwood Forest Fair

Apple season is in full swing! Gather up your windfall, give the tree a shake, see what your neighbours have to spare and get pressing. We have apple presses for sale and for hire. Pop in to see us for more information. Visit our shop in Witney or come along to the Wychwood Forest Fair on Sunday 4th September for an apple pressing demonstration and pick up a recipe on how to make your lovely juice into lovely cider.

Strawberry Season

Strawberries. Juicy red berries of sweet goodness and fermentable sugars. Their presence in the gardens and allotments of Britain confirms summer has arrived. Wimbledon's happened, Pimms has been drunk, Eton Mess has been devoured. What else can we do with this classically British fruit before the season ends? Make wine of course! Strawberry wine is a sweet, fresh, fruity wine with the most beautiful rosé colour. Make this wine in July and it will be ready to serve as a dessert wine with your Christmas pudding. 

See our straight forward Strawberry Wine Recipe and visit our Recipes page for more seasonal ideas.

Preserving Your Elderflower Cordial

We've all smelt the signature scent or spotted the characteristic florets to tell us elderflower season is in full swing. Here at the shop we've made our first batch of elderflower cordial (see recipe here) and are planning on making a second (bigger) batch this weekend because it's just so tasty, sweet and refreshing. Particularly refreshing when added to a good old gin and tonic.

A common question about the cordial is: what is the best method of preserving it to enure it lasts as long as possible? Although it's tricky to be too specific with homemade, natural produce there are various methods you can use.

Option one: pop it in the fridge. Nice and easy and it will preserve your cordial for a few weeks. Option two: freeze it. Put your cordial into plastic bottles, 1 pint milk bottles are a good size and pack into the freezer easily. Leave space in the top too allow for the cordial to expand as it freezes. Or try ice cube trays to preserve in single portions. Option three, our preferred method (because our freezer space is a valuable commodity) add 1/4 teaspoon of campden powder per litre and your cordial will keep for up to a year.

(Option four, although not for this blog post, is obviously fermenting it)

Make Your Own Nettle Wine

While you're waiting for the elderflower to fullly bloom why not keep your demi-johns employed and make some nettle wine. Be sure to pick the fresh tops and pick from a large area to minimise disturbance to the wildlife, particularly butterflies, living amongst the nettle bed. Click on the image to view our own recipe.

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Brewery Develops Edible 6-Pack Rings

The plastic rings which hold 6-packs of beer together are well known for being dangerous to marine life when they get stuck around creature's wings, necks, fins or shells. They are also harmful when animals eat, and are unable to digest, the plastic. Now Saltwater Brewery in Florida have developed an edible alternative. Made using brewing by-products these 6-pack rings can be safely eaten by marine life. If they're not eaten, they'll biodegrade before they cause any damage.

The more companies in canned drink production adopt these 6-pack rings the more affordable the production will become. Show your support and spread the word!

New Product - Refractometer

The refractometer is a neat little tool for measuring the specific gravity and brix % of wort. Use the refractometer during your brew to monitor the efficiency of your mash, sparge and boil. Easy to use and clean and requires only a few drops of wort to take a reading. Drop the wort on to the lens using the pipette provided and close the daylight plate. Hold the refractometer up to the light and view the reading through the eyepiece. Take a reading from where the light changes from blue to white.

These refractometers are designed to measure sugar content and the readings are skewed by the presence of alcohol. To take a final gravity reading use this refractometer calculator at Brewer's Friend. We find this model has a Wort Correction Factor between .95 and 1. 

How to Cornykeg Series - How to Clean?

Acid based sterilisers (either a generic no-rinse solution or Star San) are recommended over chlorine based ones (VWP) as the chlorine can cause pitting in the stainless steel. Plus there's the added bonus of not having to rinse.

Always release pressure from your keg before opening the lid. Pull the pressure release valve or, if your keg doesn't have one, push down on the centre of the 'In' post. Once the pressure's released pull up the lid handle and hit the lid with the heel of your hand to open cleanly, then twist the lid to remove. Rinse the inside thoroughly with warm water to get rid of any remaining beer and residue. You may want to do this a couple of times and get your arm in there if you can see visible beer remains and/or 'tide' marks. As always with cleaning homebrew equipment, the sooner you clean the keg the easier the job is going to be!

Following the steriliser dilution ratio as instructed on the product packaging. Add around 5 litres of sterilising solution to the keg, replace the lid and give the keg a good shake to make sure steriliser comes into contact with all internal surfaces of the keg. Pressurise the barrel up to 10 psi then open the tap to flush steriliser through the dip tube and tap. Now the keg is clean and can be stored. It is best stored under pressure... or, better still, fill it back up with a fresh brew. 

 

It is worth fully breaking down your keg every 6 months or 3-4 uses to give the parts a more thorough clean and check all the sealing washers and 'O' rings are in good condition.

Happy kegging!

How to Cornykeg Series - How to Force Carbonate?

There are two methods for carbonating your brew: 

Natural carbonation
Mix a measured amount of sugar with the beer and seal it tightly in bottles or a barrel. The sugar is consumed by the remaining yeast in the brew and the CO2 produced has nowhere to escape (no airlock) so it is absorbed by beer and thereby carbonates it. Natural carbonation is the method used when bottling and using a plastic pressure barrel. This method throws a sediment which is no good when using a cornykeg. The dip tube draws the beer from the very bottom of the keg so you’d be pulling sediment into your glass every time you poured yourself a pint. Some brewers opt for natural carbonation and snip the end of dip tube off. This is an option but it is a tricky balance between not drawing off sediment and not wasting too much beer. It is much more preferable to force carbonate when using these kegs.

Force carbonation
This method gives the brewer more control over the level of carbonation, avoids sediment and is the preferred method when using cornykegs. Once your brew is in the cornykeg, pressurise the barrel to 30 psi or lbf/in2. It is a good idea to remove the tap and black disconnect for this, whereas the barrels can take up to 120psi, the taps cannot and may start to drip up at 30. Leave the psi at 30 and the CO2 will naturally drop into the brew over the next few days or a week. If you can’t wait that long, pressurise to 30 psi, lay the keg on its side, and gently roll it back and forth. This will increase the surface area of beer coming in contact with the CO2 encouraging a faster rate of absorption.  It’s still worth leaving the keg somewhere cool for a few days for the CO2 to fully absorb to get the best results. Remember to occasionally check the pressure and add more CO2 if necessary. Store the beer at 10 psi and serve at 2-5 psi. The ideal psi may depend on the style of beer you're serving, for example one of the characteristics of a German wheat beer is it's high carbonation level, or may be a personal preference.

Here the left hand gauge shows the beer stored at 10 psi or lbf/in2 and the right hand gauge shows the gas canister is closed. 

Here the left hand gauge shows the beer stored at 10 psi or lbf/in2 and the right hand gauge shows the gas canister is closed. 

How to Cornykeg Series - Anatomy of the Keg

The cornykeg has an 'out' post for the beer with a dip tube leading right to the bottom of the keg so you won't lose any of your precious brew. A black disconnect and tap of your choice attach to this post. Opposite the 'in' post takes a grey disconnect and allows you to add CO2 to the keg. The disconnects are colour coded to avoid them being used on the wrong post, Grey for Gas, Black for Beer - easy. The disconnects may look interchangeable but they're not. Putting a disconnect on the wrong post can damage the disconnect. 

We use 7/16 to 3/8 adapters to securely attach the grey disconnect to the gas line. The gas line leads from the keg to a CO2 regulator which screws directly on to the CO2 canister. Use the CO2 regulator to control how much CO2 can be released from the gas canister into the keg (more on this in the the next post).

The first gas canister costs around £60 then return the empty canister and get a refill price around £20, contact us about where to purchase gas. 

There are alternative taps available such as a sparkler or party tap. The sparkler tap screws directly onto the black disconnect, like the chrome tap. The party tap is a thumb trigger tap attached to the black disconnect with a length of beer line. This is exactly the same type of hose as the gas line named according to the substance travelling through it.

Pop back tomorrow for a post on Force Carbonation.

How to Cornykeg Series - What is it?

Cornykegs are becoming increasingly popular amongst homebrewers. What are they? How do they work? What are the benefits? We’ll answer these questions with a series of cornykeg blog post over the course of this week.
A cornelius keg, sometimes referred to as a corny (corni) or soda keg, is a stainless steel cylinder-shaped barrel designed to contain carbonated drinks under pressure. As well as contain carbonated drinks, the barrels are designed to allow you to carry out a process called ‘force carbonating’ which we’ll explain more about in a post this Wednesday. 

Originally these kegs were used in the soft drink industry, but now they are the chosen keg for many beer brewers. We stock brand new 19 litre AEB ball lock cornelius kegs, as well as all the fittings and accessories.

As mentioned above cornykegs have a cylindrical body which gives them a small footprint (only 22cm diameter). People who want to keep a few brews in a relatively small space won’t have any problems. The kegs have moulded rubber bases, similar sturdy handles, and are surprisingly lightweight, which all mean you won’t struggle moving the keg around even when full of your own tasty brew! The overall build quality of the kegs means, with proper maintenance and care, they should last a lifetime.

Let us know if you have any questions about these kegs and we can make sure they're covered later in the week!

Taking the sap (How to extract birch tree sap)

Birch sap, or birch water as it's sometimes called, is extracted at the end of winter, usually mid March in the UK. It's a clear, slightly sweet liquid thought to have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and cleansing properties (Wikipedia). At the end of a dreary winter what better way to drink in some extra nourishment. You can drink it as soon as it's extracted from the tree. One downside, or bonus (depending on your perspective), is that the sap has a very short shelf life, 2-3 days. To preserve it: ferment it! For stage by stage 'how to' instructions on making birch sap wine visit our recipe by clicking here.

The most important consideration when embarking (did you see that tree pun?) on sap extraction is how not to damage the tree. Follow a few simple rules and your (or your neighbour's) lovely silver birch will survive this ordeal unscathed:

- Extract at the correct time of year - tap the tree in early March, when the buds are starting to grow, and the sap should flow freely. If it doesn't then wait another week or so and try again.

- Select a well established tree, not a youngster, at least 12 inches in diameter.

- Do not take more than a few litres from each tree.

- Bung the hole to prevent more sap draining out of the tee and to protect it from infection.

Watch this great video guide by Andrew Price on extracting sap correctly.

Here's a summary of the method:

- Drill 3-4cm into tree at an upward angle to allow sap to flow out

- Insert one end of piping into the tree and the other end into a demi-john

- Make a bung the same size as the drilled hole to insert after extracting sap

 

No Hops in Shops - The Quest for Lupulin

We're running out of hops... well, at least until the next harvest comes through. In fact, that's not entirely true, we're just about managing to keep up our stocks by searching the market place at length. Recently East Kent Goldings, a staple English hop, became unobtainable but we've got that back in stock now.

The cause of the shortage is craft beer consumption. Hop producers are struggling to supply the demand.  Craft beers are nearly all, without exception, incredibly hoppy in taste.  This extremely hoppy characteristic is created, unsurprisingly, by using many more hops in the brewing process than traditional beer recipes require - generally speaking. The USA is at the heart of the craft beer revolution, you can read more about the hop shortage statistics here on the drink business website.

The technique of dry-hopping is one of the key processes responsible for the hop shortage. Read about various methods of dry hopping here.

The Law on Distilling Alcohol for Personal Consumption

Last Friday we went to a meeting at our local MP’s office to discuss the legality of distilling alcohol for personal consumption - see EU Directive 92/83/EEC.

In brief, distilling alcohol without a license is illegal within the EU and, according to info from the Treasury, licenses are only issued where there is “a genuine commercial need”. Why does there need to be a commercial need? We’d like to be able to distil legally, just like we can ferment legally. The current law is outdated for a number of reasons so trying to change it is worth a shot!

Valid concerns include potential dangers and loss of revenue from excise duty. In short there is little – almost zero – danger involved today thanks to modern domestic distilling technology. Much of the modern equipment is manufactured in New Zealand where it’s legal to distil for personal consumption. There is an informative pdf article called HDA Safety in the Downloads section of the American Hobby Distillers Association website regarding the potential dangers. And on the issue of lost revenue from excise duty, ideally there would be an exemption from paying excise duty for those distilling for personal consumption (just as there is for fermenting). If that is not acceptable, then we could have a licensing system – not dissimilar to the current shotgun license or television license. The license fee would be a sort of prepaid excise duty.

There being no way to get a license to distil alcohol for personal consumption could encourage criminal behaviour, trading on the black market and make it harder to collect data about the subject. If we decided not to issue shotgun licenses unless there was “a genuine commercial need” we might be sending citizens towards the criminal fraternity. Hungary are currently fighting with the EU to allow its people to distill up to 50 litres of pálinka without a license - here is an article from 2014.

Our meeting last Friday concluded that we’d ask for more information from the Home Office as this is the ministerial dept responsible for "shaping the alcohol strategy, policy and licensing conditions".

We're looking forward to getting their response.

Holidays are coming...

It's nearly Christmas...

...We've got the smell of Aspen mulling spices filling the shop...

...our Grainfather brewing away at the back of the store... 

...lots of Christmas gifts now in stock (beer moleskins, wine moleskins, coktail gift boxes, and grow your own hop plants, plus loads more)...

...and little white snow flakes cascading down the window display - and a couple of silly Christmas hats just for good measure!