Pale ale

Photographer: Adam
makes 42x 500ml bottles

Beer is definitely an office favourite, on a Friday afternoon it’s a given that members of the office will be heading off for that well deserved end of week beer. And sometimes, when there’s cause for celebration, one of the functional managers will put on a few beers and the whole office gets together in the staff kitchen to regale each other with the week’s stresses and unwind. We’re quite a tight knit bunch down here at the Dunedin branch and Friday beers has forged many a friendship.

Personally I’ve always been fascinated by the process of brewing and fermentation, it contains two things I love, food and chemistry. I decided that here was a golden opportunity to have a go at it. When I mentioned this in passing to Kurt, a customer interface engineer, he immediately volunteered the services of his brother-in-law Jun who has brewed many home brews and happens to be very talented at it and doing his PhD in food science, who could argue with that? Naturally I was rapt, it turned the whole process into an awesome experience and of course turned out a magnificent brew. I think both Kurt and I walked away from the experience feeling very inspired to get into home brewing on a regular basis.

The buying experience was probably my favourite bit of the whole thing, I think generally small scale home brew stores are staffed by really enthused people who are willing to teach and help. The guy was so friendly, before Jun and Kurt even arrived he had out all these incredible hops for me to smell, one of which flavours one of my favourite beers which has to be (of course) the Emerson’s pilsner. Emerson’s pilsner has this amazing passionfruit flavour to it and when I smelt the hops I just got this overwhelming aroma of passionfruit, I think that in itself was enough to put a smile on my face for the rest of the day.

When Jun and Kurt arrived then the true fun began picking out all the ingredients for the beer, we decided to make a pale ale for our first ever brew as it’s probably the easiest and most uncomplicated. Jun thought the easiest and cheapest option was to use a mixture of grain mash and starter kit, so carefully under the guidance of the shop attendant we picked out grains suited for pale ale. Hop choice was a little experimental and so was the yeast choice, the yeast came highly recommended and when we got it home I was so pleased we heeded those recommendations. It had the most amazing smell and I definitely think it contributed so much more to the taste of the final beer.

The final result was bitterer than I am used to, but once I got used to it, it was such a tasty drop, so much so that drinking a store bought beer afterwards seemed boring in comparison. The whole experience was inspirational and sparked a multitude of conversations with passionate people that I feel has enriched my life. That enthusiasm is infectious and I’ve found myself caught up in this movement that is organic, the return to the older ways of doing things, I am surprised a cynic such as myself has let it get under her skin!


25L good quality water (we obtained ours from the Speights brewery which has an underground spring)
150g light crystan malt grains
500g pale malt grains
1.1L malt extract
1.5kg East India Pale Ale starter kit
15g Nelson Savon hops
15g Cascade hops
20g Motueka hops
1968 London ESB Ale yeast
Caster sugar

Required equipment
Fermenter bucket
Measuring cylinder
Sodium percarbonate (steriliser)
Bottles (we used 42 500ml glass bottles, you can also use screw top plastic bottles)
Bottle brush
Bottle cap sealer


1. Mashing stage – bring 4L of the water to 65°C using a thermometer to monitor the temperature. It is important that the water remains at 65°C, a little bit below is ok, above is not. This is because this is the optimum temperature for the enzymes within the malt to act on the long chain sugars from the malt grains breaking them into smaller soluble sugars like maltose, which will be food for the yeast over the brew period. Temperatures above 65°C will cause the enzymes to break up rendering them inactive, that is why it is important to stay below this temperature. Leave this for 45minutes.
2. While the grains are on the stove pour the malt extract and starter kit into the fermenter bucket (this should already have been sterilised the day prior using the sodium percarbonate). Pour boiling water into the bucket and rinse out the cans.
3. Sparging – once the mash has been on the stove for 45min drain through a sieve into the fermenter bucket. Bring a jugful of water to the boil and mix with cold water until the water is 75°C, pour this over the grains in the sieve into the fermenter. This removes left over soluble sugars in the grains, water over this temperature will start removing protein from the grains as well which will make the beer cloudy and is not desirable.
4. Boiling the hops – Bring 3L of water to boil, add in the cascade and savon hops, these will make the flavour of the beer. Boil for 30minutes, scraping down the pot from time to time as hops are sticky and will coat the sides of the pot. Once the 30min is complete add the Motueka hops and boil for a further 5 min, make sure this is 5min or less as these hops contribute bitterness and smell to the beer; you don’t want the beer too bitter. Drain the hops into the fermenter bucket through a sieve.
5. Top up the fermenter to 23L using cold water. Measure the specific gravity of this by pouring out 100mL into the cylinder and spinning the hydrometer in this, read from the meniscus. Our initial reading was 1.042gL-1.
6. The yeast we used came in a smack pack, which you literally smack to activate the yeast. Alternatively use dried yeast which will need to be grown the day before by placing it in lukewarm water with sugar in a warm place. The yeast should be pitched (added) to the wort when it reaches 24°C, the fermenter bucket should have a temperature indicator on the side. When the yeast is pitched seal the bucket so that it is air tight since the fermentation process is anaerobic, meaning without air.
7. Leave for one to two weeks and then pour out into sterilised bottles with a teaspoon of sugar in each. Bottles should be sterilised the day prior after being thoroughly washed out. Also at this stage take the second specific gravity measurement, using both measurements and an online brewer calculator will indicate the alcohol content of your brew. Have a taste of the ‘green’ beer, it will give an indication of what the final beer will taste like but will be a lot bitterer, the final fermentation in the bottles will mellow it out and also cause the formation of carbon dioxide. Finally seal up the bottles with crowns and sealer, leave in a warm dry place for 4-6 weeks; we left ours for 6 weeks.