This month we’re chatting to that most holy of home brewers, St. Fursey.
He’s a long-time brewer and is club representative for the Galway Home Brewers Club.
A big fan of Belgian beers, his Rasberry Lambic recently scooped the gold medal in the Galway Bay Brewery competition. Enda, for that was his name before he was canonised, can be found on both Twitter and Facebook.
St. Fursey, thanks for taking part in June’s “Brewer Spotlight”.
My pleasure, I’m honoured to have been asked!
Tell us a little about the craft beer “scene” in Galway?
It has been a slow start but the craft beer scene is really starting to take off in Galway. When “Galway Hooker” first began to appear in some of the popular Galway bars a few years back, I don’t think anybody realised that it was the beginning of a beer revolution in Galway. The Galway Hooker group have ensured that you don’t necessarily need to go to a dedicated craft beer pub to get a nice pint!
There are some great craft beer bars in Galway. The Bierhaus in Galway’s West End was the first true craft beer bar to open in Galway. It’s a great spot that offers beer menus and a huge selection of national and international craft beers. When the Cottage Group launched the Galway Bay Brewery and four pubs in Galway, things really got exciting. The Salthouse is a particular favourite of mine and the Galway Home Brewers Club hold our monthly meetings in the Oslo pub and brewery in Salthill.
The Townhouse is the latest bar to serve the craft beer snobs. It’s a nice pub near the Spanish Arch with outdoor seating making it a great place to visit when we are graced with sunshine. All in all, the scene is really healthy in Galway. I think some publicans are finally realising that there’s a market for good beer.
Galway Bay Brewery’s recent competition focused exclusively on Belgian beers. How did it feel to win the gold medal?
I was delighted with the win, and quite surprised. I had a big smile on my face for the rest of the evening and for quite some time after that! I entered the competition never expecting to win, particularly after seeing the pedigree of the other competitors. I entered four beers into the competition: a Blond, a Quad, a Berry Lambic style and the Raspberry Lambic style which was the winner. The Berry and Raspberry Lambic style beers came from the same base beer which I split after primary fermentation and added the different fruit combinations during secondary fermentation. It was my first attempt at fruit beer, never mind a Lambic style so you can imagine my surprise when it was announced as the winner.
When did you start “brewing your own” and how long have you been doing it?
I first attempted to brew beer when I was a student in Galway 10 years ago. Back then you could get kits in Easons but the quality was miles away from anything you can get in a homebrew shop today. In hindsight, I wasn’t as fastidious about sanitising as I am now and judging by some of the gushers that resulted, kit quality wasn’t solely to blame for my dodgy brews! I took a break from brewing for a few years and got seriously into it again about 4 years ago. After some good results with Coopers kits, I moved to extract and wasn’t long stepping up to all-grain after a few brews.
What beers styles do you brew regularly and why?
I’m a big fan of dark beers and hoppy beers, so stouts and pale ales feature regularly on brewdays. The variety of hops available to homebrewers seems to grow every year which keeps things interesting. But what continues to amaze me is how you can get such variety between brews through subtle changes in mash profile, and by playing around with hop additions and timing.
Can you name your 5 favourite commercial beers?
That’s a tough one! In no particular order: Sierra Nevada “Ruthless Rye”, Left Hand Brewery “Fade To Black (Volume 3 – Pepper Porter)”, Franciscan Well “Shandon Stout”, Brooklyn Brewery “Sorachi Ace”, Dungarvan Brewing “Coffee and Oatmeal Stout”.
Do you have one beer that you have brewed over and over to perfect the recipe or process?
There are so many different types of beer that I have yet to try to brew that I rarely repeat a recipe. The exception is a coffee and chocolate stout that I have brewed a few times. I haven’t fully nailed it yet, but I’m getting close.
Can you describe your current brewing equipment set-up?
My setup is pretty basic. I use a corona mill, but I replaced the hand crank with an 8mm bolt so I can mill using a battery drill. I have two plastic fermenters that I have converted to a HLT and a boil kettle by installing two elements and a tap in each. I got a cheap “STC1000” controller from ebay and put it in an electrical box. I use it to control the temperature of the water in my HLT so I can leave it unattended when heating up water for the mash. I use a bazooka hop screen in the boil kettle to keep the hops at bay when I’m draining into my fermenter.
My mash tun is a converted 45 litre Coleman Cooler that I got cheap on adverts and replaced the drain bung with a threaded coupling. My manifold is homemade using a few lengths of Qualpex and a selection of elbows and tees. It looks rough but it does the job. My mash paddles are wooden spoons from the kitchen and a junior hurley that I got in Aldi and attacked with my hole saw.
Until very recently all liquid transfer was done using gravity. I invested in a solar pump which reduces some of the lifting but I still let gravity do most of the work. For cooling I have a stainless steel immersion chiller that I really like. Thanks to Shiny I have two conical flasks for starters and a stir plate that my wife got me as a birthday present this year. Thanks to Covey for stir bars!
How often do you get a chance to brew?
I try to brew at least once a month. The Galway Home Brewers Club meets on the last Friday of every month so it gives me a bit of incentive to keep brewing and trying out new recipes.
Describe your typical brew day for us.
I work during the week so all brewing gets done on the weekend. On the run up to a brew day I’ll have put a recipe together and made sure that I have the ingredients and supplies I need. Luckily for me, HomeBrewWest is only down the road so I can pick up supplies fairly easily.
I start by filling my hot liquor tank with the required amount of water and begin heating it up while I weigh out and crush my grain. If I plan it right, I have time for breakfast. After breakfast, I pre-heat my cooler mash tun by chucking in a couple of kettles of hot water and leaving it for a few minutes. Usually by this time the water has heated up. The temperature controller prevents the water from getting too hot. I use an alcohol thermometer to double-check the temperature.
When I’m happy that I’ve reached my desired temperature I’ll dump the water from my mash tun and empty in the grain followed by the water and give it a good mix-up. I’ll recheck the temperature and adjust if necessary before leaving the mash to do its thing. The first 2 litres of runnings are always recirculated. I sit a disposable aluminium BBQ tray on top of the grain to act as a filter. I haven’t made any fancy sparging equipment yet so I batch sparge. Depending on the beer I’m making, I might do a bit of kettle caramelisation. On the first runnings, I’ve also been trying out first-wort hopping lately with pretty good results, but until I do a side-by-side beer I can’t tell how much of a difference it makes.
The rest of the brew is straightforward, I usually babysit my kettle until I have a good rolling boil and have stirred in my hot break. Then I’ll unplug one of the elements and add hops according to my schedule. In the last 15mins of the boil I’ll drop in my immersion cooler to sterilise it. I’ll stir the cooler during cooling to speed up the process. Lastly I drain in the cooled wort into my fermenting bucket. I also add a tiny drop of olive oil to the wort to give the yeast a helping hand which is no harm because I can be lazy when it comes to preparing starters.
What’s your favourite part of the brewing process? Least favourite?
Besides drinking the results? There are two things I love: smelling hops is one. I could happily go around smelling hops all day long. The second is building brewing related equipment. Most of my equipment is home-made. I get a kick out of making beer from stuff that I have put together myself. I find myself spending a lot of time wondering how I could recycle bits and pieces to support my home brewing addiction.
Least favourite part of brewing is washing bottles. I clean everything with Chemipro Oxi before sanitising using Starsan. It’s a pain in the ass washing bottles but as I keg most of my beer so I usually bottle less than a dozen from each brew. Now and again I’ll bottle an entire brew just to remind myself how great it is to have kegs.
Do you have any favourite malts or hop varieties?
I love using rye even though it increases the risk of getting a stuck mash. I think it gives great character to pale ale. In terms of hops, Magnum and Citra are some of my favourites.
Do you favour liquid or dry yeasts? Any favourite strains, or ones you use most often?
I usually go for dry yeast as it’s cheaper and easier to manage. “Safale US-05” or “Danstar Nottingham” are my favourites. However I like “WhiteLabs Californian Ale WLP001”. For the Belgian Beer Homebrew Competition, I used “Wyeast 3278 Belgian Lambic blend” with great results – I’ll be using it again. It contains Brettanomyces so I now have a dedicated Belgian beer fermenter!
What has been your most ambitious or challenging home brewing project to date?
My Raspberry Lambic was probably the most ambitious beer I have made to date. I’d never used fruit in brewing before and Lambic strain yeasts were another unknown to me. The beer and hop combination I used were fairly simple in keeping with the style I was aiming for. I added raspberries to the secondary and left them there until the colour had been fully absorbed into the beer. The result was a lovely red beer that had a lot going on.
Tell us how you’re currently involved with the NHC’s Barrel Project?
I’m one of ten intrepid brewers from the Galway Home Brewers Club who are taking on the mighty barrel project. We’ve had a number of meetings and have thought long and hard about the beer that’s going into the barrel. The barrel will be living in my garage as it imparts its goodness into the beer. My job will be to read the barrel bedtime stories and to keep it happy and topped up, and maybe take the odd sample for quality control purposes. It’s shaping up to be a great project.
Tell us about the recipe you’re using for the barrel project?
I’m sure that recipes will be posted on the website after the beers have been sampled. Until then, the recipe is a closely guarded secret! However I can reveal that we have brewed an Imperial Stout that is loosely based on a US beer of which Tom (Hop Bomb) conducted extensive research when he was touring the States with his band recently. A fair amount of planning went into the beer. A few meetings and a good few pints were had during the planning stages. Everything about the beer is big. So much so that it pushed the equipment of most of the brewers the limit. We used a lot of early addition Chinook hops with relatively small Amarillo and Northern Brewer late additions. The grain bill is the biggest I have ever used – both in terms of volume and variety. A great combination of crystals, brown and chocolate malts was used and my 45 litre mash tun was just about big enough to take it. We had a taste of each brew before filling the barrel for quality control purposes. If the original brews are anything to go by, it’s going to be a really good beer!
Do you have a favourite source for recipes?
“Radical Brewing” by Randy Mosher and “Brewing Better Beer” by Gordon Strong are often my first stops when I’m planning a brew. I don’t have any other specific source and I try not to copy recipes. I usually pick a beer style and will read through a few different recipes in books and online and will take the bits I like best to patch together a recipe.
Have you had any bad batches, or other brewing disasters to speak of?
In the early days I had a few contaminated batches that made me afraid to open bottles indoors! I’m a big fan of hoppy beers but one brew I did was so over-hopped that I couldn’t drink it. I kept a few bottles of that one to see if it will mellow out over time. I’m getting better as time passes but I still manage to have the odd boilover. Usually when I decide to brew indoors.
Any big home brewing projects planned in the near future?
I’m hoping to make my brewery bigger, shinier and more automated. Plans are afoot to upgrade the brewery. Hopefully to give it a more permanent home and to build a control unit based loosely on plans from theelectricbrewery.com to get better consistency between brews. Obviously the project I’m really looking forward to is brewing my Lambic style raspberry beer with the big boys at the Galway Bay Brewery later this year.
What are your own personal tips for success in home brewing?
The obvious tip is to keep everything clean! If you can keep your post boil equipment, bottles etc. clean and sanitized you’re 95% there. I’ve learned a lot by splitting brews after primary fermentation to see the effects of different hop, fruit and herb combinations.
St. Fursey, thanks for taking part in this month’s “Spotlight” and once again congratulations on your win!