Winterfest fast approaches – and we have a nameless beer

pumpkin and beerIt’s that time of year again folks, thanksgiving/winterfest is almost upon us so we’ve got the pumpkin beer fermenting away.

We are having our winterfest get together on 13th December this year (as this is the only date we could all make) and as always there will be pumpkin beer to go with our feast. This year however I’ve tried a new recipe, something a little lighter in body and a little lighter in alcohol. Hey it was a whim.

The rules apparently state – New Beer – New Name! So…

Use the “get in touch” link at the top of the page and send us your suggestions for a name for our pumpkin beer before November 7th and I will then hold another vote right here to decide.

Chocolate milk stout -the holy grail of my home brewing

Ena SharplesThe last thing on our minds on a hot summer day is a thick, dark stout. On those days you dream of cold pilsner, or hoppy pale ales unless however, you are a brewer. Beers take time to make and to be ready to drink, they take time to research and to plan and then for the recipe to be written and tweaked to be right. For brewers, this means that we are thinking about the stouts and festive beers we need to brew for Christmas in July, about summer beers come Thanksgiving. Even planning that Thanksgiving pumpkin beer in June. So this is why I found myself researching stout recipes for Mr Mo’s chocolate stout in the sunshine of July.

Mr Mo’s chocolate stout is a beer we make as our winter beer and in tribute to our cat who passed at christmas last year. Being a black or very dark beer and Elmo being a black cat it was a perfect complement. You can read more about this on the post about remembering him.

Keeping Mr Mo with us.

What is a stout, milk stout, chocolate milk stout anyway?

Stout is a dark beer, think Guinness. It has a deep, roasted barley or coffee like flavour but stouts are one of those beers which divide beer drinkers. They are heavy and have a lot of roasty flavours which are not to everyone’s taste. Kate is a big coffee fan so she enjoys a good stout. I however hate coffee and so don’t like those flavours in my beer.

Then I discovered milk stout. Now let me tell you about milk stout (or sweet stout), it’s not a new fangled craft beer invention. Far from it. One of the most famous milk stout drinkers was in fact Ena Sharples of Coronation Street fame. It was the beer pregnant women were told to drink because “it does a body good” but the craft beer industry has made milk stout fashionable again meaning there are lots out there to try, not just good old “Sweetheart Stout”.

Milk stout has less of the roasted coffee like flavours and has the addition of lactose sugar to make it sweeter. It can also have hits of vanilla, cream or chocolate coming through.

The big hit for me was the chocolate flavours and purely for research purposes I tested a lot of different milk stouts discovering that the levels of flavours varied greatly. One that I absolutely fell in love with was Lugene from Odell’s brewery in Colorado. It is rich and has hits of vanilla and some of the chocolate elements coming through that I love. Especially after a pale ale, for some sciency reason, the pale ale makes it taste even more chocolatey.

So last year my emphasis was how do I get the chocolate flavours to be bold and really stand out in the beer?

This meant moving away from the coffee flavours that Kate likes, so as a compromise, we split the batch in two. To one I added some of Kate’s favourite coffee to give her a coffee milk stout and to the other batch … well.

A lot of research and pootling on the interweb and I discovered that you could do this using roasted cocoa nibs. You sit the beer on them for a week or two to let the beer absorb all those lovely flavours.  Yup, I went for a chocolate milk stout.

The cocoa nibs definitely helped with the chocolatey taste and smell but it still wasn’t as good as the Lugene beer I’d fallen in love with, there was still too much roastiness for me. So, I emailed Odell, not expecting them to entertain me, but I actually got an email back giving me details of all the malts they use so I couldn’t have asked for a better hint.

Mr Mo's chocolate milk stoutThere was still some of the roast barley in their grain bill that gives the roastie flavours so I decided to try taking that out completely. That meant that this year’s version of the beer is using that grain bill (just about) and I have to say I am really chuffed with the flavour. It doesn’t have any of the roastiness that I don’t like. It’s not quite Lugene, it doesn’t have the depth that their beer has but it’s a definite improvement on my first attempt but I now know that the beer needs some of the roastiness to get that depth of flavour I want. You live and learn.

Next year? Well next years focus is going to be on two elements;

  • the beer’s mouthfeel, and
  • the depth of flavour.

At the minute my beer tastes thin compared to others so I want to focus on getting that silky mouthfeel I get from other milk stouts and I suspect I am going to have to learn a whole new technique for next year.

With the depth of flavour, I am now suspecting that I need a little bit of that roastiness to balance the beer out so next year I will begin experimenting with how much roast barley to use to get just enough of that flavour.

It a lot of work and time to chase a perfect beer recipe – I started planning this beer in July, brewed it in August. It’s now October and I’ve just had my first taste but that’s the fun of being able to brew at home. I get to make beers the way I like them so it makes it all worthwhile.

So watch this space and I’ll report back this time next year.

An update – making your own bottle labels for your home-brew beer

selection of beer labelsI did a post a few months back about making labels for your home-brew and recently it seems to be the most read post on our blog and I’ve noticed it being passed around on some of the brewing forums for folk who are asking for advice on making their own labels. Since I wrote the original I’ve made a whole heap of new labels so I thought it might be time for a quick update on what I’m doing and maybe some more hints and tips that I didn’t post last time. The blog post I did is still available if you want to have a look –

If you hadn’t read it previously I’d say go read that post and come back as there is some useful information there that will set you up to get started.

You read it? Good then lets look at some new labels and how I did them.


 My labels – how did I choose that design?

Brew dog labelI actually didn’t start off with that design for my bottles. I’ve gone through a whole process of trying out different labels until I found the one that got me most excited and although at the minute I am really pleased with them, they are not perfect but I’ll tell you more about that later.

My first label idea was based on the Brewdog labels. I liked the bold colours and text of the design and I liked the slightly grungy look so I had a play about with how I could recreate that kind of idea.

lager labelMy first attempt was for a coopers lager kit I did, so of course thinking of Australian lager, I made the label yellow. Looking back, it’s not a brilliant label not least because of the poor choice of yellow background with white lettering which wasn’t easy to read. Also it was a bit cluttered. I tried to put a name for the beer, details about what it looked and tasted like, the style, the percentage, a logo for my “brewery” and some information about pouring it since it had yeast in the bottle. An awful lot of info to get onto a little square of paper. Things did continue to evolve though.

I switched colours mostly, so each beer had the same label but with the background as a different colour. Red for Goblin Queen, Purple for Heather Ale etc. But I mostly stuck with this design, just adding a couple of little bits to grunge it up a bit and it worked fine for a while, all our beers had this label on them and together they looked quite cool sitting on a shelf and I was pretty proud.


beer lined up


However the grunginess and the massive amounts of text started to annoy me and I wanted something simple and bold. Something modern. So I scrapped it all and started with a blank, white square and said, “What text actually NEEDS to be there?” And the scary thing is, not as much as you think.

So I went for a very stripped down version, just a square of bold colour and the text I needed in a plain bold font. It worked out great and I am still using this idea although tweaked ever so slightly.

Bottles with new labels


 So how do I make the labels?

Ok, I normally use a piece of software called Fireworks to make my labels but since there are lots of free versions of graphics software out there, I’m going to show you how I would create a simple version of this label using one of the pieces of software you can get for free.

apa label


First download a piece of software called GIMP from this webpage and install it.

 Creating your label

step 1- get started

ok once you have GIMP open on your computer you need to create a new work area. Simply done, click FILE and then NEW. This gives you a choice of sizes to play with. For this label I usually make it around 500 pixel each length so I choose the template from the drop box which nearest fits this size – 640 by 480.

step 2 – draw your label outline

Click on the rectangle tool on the tool box.

step 2


Then drag the rectangle shape to the rough size you want.

To colour the rectangle, double click on the colour box and then choose the colour you want from the pop up window.

colour picker

Now to fill your rectangle with the colour you have chosen, click on the fill tool and then on your rectangle. I chose white but you can choose any colour you like.

fill tool

The next thing we want to do is to create the black outline around the rectangle. To do this we have to choose the background colour. On the graphic above you can see the colour boxes are red and black, red is the foreground colour and black is the background colour. You can either change the foreground colour (as you did previously) or you can switch them around by clicking the little white arrows on the top right of the colour boxes.

However you do it, for this example we want to give our rectangle a black outline so make your colour black.

Then using the menus at the top of the screen, click on EDIT, then STROKE SELECTION. It will now open the window where you can edit the outline.



For this example I am going to change my stroke settings to have a solid line and a line width of 1 px then click STROKE.

step 3 – draw your centre rectangles

You should now have a white rectangle with a black outline on the screen. The next thing we are going to do is add another rectangle in the middle of the first and colour it red. We do this in exactly the same way as before. Click on the rectangle tool, draw your rectangle and then use the colour picker and fill tool to colour it, in this instance red.

red square

Now you are rocking!

Right next we are going to add the white band where you put the name of your brewery. Exactly the same as before choose the rectangle tool, then draw it out where you want it and then use the colour tool and fill tool to colour it white.


step 4 – adding text

Now we have the basic shapes in place, we are going to add the text. Firstly the name of the beer. in the example I am calling my beer APA, for American Pale Ale.

From the toolbox, click on the bold A in the centre, this is your text tool.

text tool

As you did for your rectangles, draw out the area you want your text to go. It’s good to make it much bigger than you need for the minute, you can always make it smaller later.

Inside the space you have just drawn, double click and then type the text you want. A text tool bar will appear which will allow you to change the size or colour. Get everything as you want it by highlighting the text you just written and then using this bar to make changes.

To adjust the font or the position of the text, you can do this from the tool options on the left.

font tools



On my example I have text that looks like it has a dark shadow. I made this by having two pieces of text. One white and one black. Then I moved one on top of the other.

To move an item such as text, click on the moving tool from the tool box and then click on the item and drag it to where you want it to be.

drag tool

The other tool you need to know about is the layers toolbox. It allows you to move layers to have one on top of the other. In this case the white text on top of the black text.

The layer which you want to be on top, will be top of the list. For example, our white rectangle is the back, then next is the red one, then the black text and then the white text as this is the order we want them to appear.


Adjust yours so that your text appears as you want it.

You now use this same set of tools to add your other text elements to your label and in the end you should end up with something similar to this.

simple label



step 5 – saving your graphic

Right, you’ve created a brilliant label that you are super proud of. Now you want to save it so you can print it and use it on your new beer.

The first thing you want to do is get rid of any of the excess white area (or canvas) around your graphic.

From the menu at the top of the screen, click IMAGE. Then click FIT CANVAS TO SELECTION. this will take out all the excess canvas for you.

Lastly we want to save your creation, so to do this, click FILE and then EXPORT. This will open a window where you can choose the type of file to save and give it a name. I’d recommend using the little cross on the bottom left to choose SELECT FILE TYPE and then from the list that appears choose GIF.

Now at the top, give your file a name and then click EXPORT.




Elderflower Champagne – Part 2 (Bottling)

bottling day
what you’ll need to bottle

The champagne has been fermenting away for a few weeks and the yeast has done it’s job and eaten all the sugar to turn it into alcohol. I’ve taken my readings and made sure that fermentation has finished and I can also tell that it is 8.5% ABV. I’ll explain later how you work out the alcohol using your hydrometer readings.

Now it’s time to bottle the champagne and make it fizzy – after all if it isn’t fizzy, it isn’t champagne.

Bottling champagne is a little bit different from bottling beer, you need slightly different equipment and some brute strength.

You need the following;

  •  Champagne bottles
    this is important. You can’t just use any bottle to bottle something which is carbonated, especially not to the levels that the champagne will be carbonated as the pressure will cause your average glass bottle to explode. You need to make sure you have proper champagne bottles, they are slightly heavier and will stand up to the pressure much better.
  • Corks
    I’ve gone with plastic corks that I can force into the bottle without a corking machine.
  • Cages
    these hold the corks in place so that the fizz from inside the bottle doesn’t force the corks out.
  • Some sort of tubing you can use to siphon the wine into the bottle (I like to transfer the wine to another bucket through a piece of muslin first and then bottle the filtered stuff from that new bucket).
  • Sugar
    to feed the yeast and make your champagne fizzy

 How to work out your alcohol content

  1. Take note of the reading you took before adding the yeast to your wine (example Start reading = 1075)
  2. Take note of the reading you took that let you know that your wine was finished fermenting (example Final reading = 998)

The alcohol (by volume) is simply the number of fermented units (start minus final) divided by 7.4. So…

Alcohol =

(1075-998) / 7.4 = (77) / 7.4 = 10.4 %

I suspect that if you follow my recipe, your wine will be between 8.5% and 9%.


How to make your wine fizzy

If you were just making wine, you could stop here. Bottle your wine and enjoy, however as we’re making champagne or sparkling wine we need to make our wine fizzy. Now I can imagine you are wondering what sort of fancy machine is involved in making this happen? Well it’s so much simpler than that.

To make wine fizzy, we simply add sugar and let the yeast that’s left in the wine eat the sugar and as a by product of eating sugar, create co2. Simples.

This is why I mentioned earlier that you needed proper bottles. We are going to add our wine to the bottle with a set amount of sugar, cork it and let leave it alone and let the yeast do its stuff.

Now the more sugar you add, the more co2 the yeast will produce and the more fizz you will get, but be careful, adding too much sugar and you could end up with bottles exploding under force.

I added 9 grams for each 750ml bottle.

Now we put it away and forget about it.



Bottles of Elderflower Champagne
Bottles of Elderflower Champagne



Did it work?

Yep. It worked a treat.
I know have some bottles of lovely, sparkly elderflower champagne to enjoy over summer.

The trick to having this lovely drink look all clear is to store it away and forget about it. I’ve had mine sitting for a couple of months now and it’s crystal clear.
Perfect for a sunny day in the garden.

Homemade Elderflower Champagne or sparkling wine

Related Post

Elderflower Champagne – Part 1

The full process in step by step videos

Springfest – the beer competition results

The first annual Springfest brew competition was definately a resounding success.

We were lucky enough to be treated to 4 separate and very different brews, 3 of which were competing and the fourth? The fourth was the first bottle of my elderflower champers which we thought we’d have a small sample of and I’m quite pleased. It turned out really lovely.


But more about that another time.

Our fabulous brewers treated us to 3 fantastic brews, each very different and each very representative of the brewers who made them.

The judging was carried out by scoring each brew based on:
appearance, flavour, aroma and overall drinkability with everyone joining in on the judging and generally enjoying tasting all the different drinks on offer.

When the scores were counted, the results were.

  1. Karma Citra – a massive 10% abv IPA style citra beer by Kate of Hodgeheg home brewery
  2. Ubhal-Brigh – a fantastically summery, elderflower cider by Valerie and Dave of Black Cat home brewery
  3. Redrum red ale – a cherry wood aged red ale by Luke of Mole End home brewery.

The night was great fun and all the brewers have vowed to submit another brew next year.  Look out as Hayley has promised an entry too.

Maybe it was the fantasic medals the guys got their hands on. They are fantastic “beer ranger” metal police style badges from

Springfest – because it’s seasonal beer time again

pump labels springfest apaI can’t believe it’s that time of year already. It comes round so fast but here we are again preparing for Springfest at the weekend. Those of you who are regular readers to our blog will know that Springfest is our annual celebration of all things sunny and bright, the growth of new things in the garden and the general feeling of fabulousness that comes with the brighter weather. It’s a bit like Beltaine for us, Beltaine is the celtic festival of fire. It is the celebration of the winter darkness being defeated by the spring sun and the rebirth of the world around us. That’s kinda how we feel.

As is the tradition for Springfest, a beer is brewed for the event using citra hops. Last year Kate designed the beer, this year she has actually brewed the beer (you can read about her efforts and see the recipe for yourself here) , but more than that, so has Luke and Valerie. This year we are having a wee brewing competition where Kate, Luke and Valerie have all brewed up a wee something they are going to bring along and we’ll all taste them and pick a winner.

Kate has made a double IPA using citra hops, Valerie has made an elderflower cider and Luke has made a red ale and aged it with cherry wood. Things should be interesting.

As always when we have one of our seasonal parties there will be food to go with the beer and for the theme this year to mark the first Springfest Homebrewing competition, I’ve gone with a theme of “boozing tasties” or basically the food you eat when you’ve drunk a little too much. I know you guys like to get your hands on some of the recipes for our “doos” (scottish for party) so here you go.

So amongst other things we are going to be having;


Indian curry

the recipe is in one of our early blog posts here.




Malaysian Curry

Malay Chicken

Ingredients for 2 people

  • Chicken breast x 2 cubed
  • Mushrooms about 7 or 8
  • Coconut milk
  • Malay Spices (I use Malay Masala) Obviously you can make your own spice blend but i love this one so have stuck with it.
  • Lemon grass
  • Coriander (cilantro for our US readers) – chopped roughly
  • Red pepper – thinly sliced
  • Oyster Sauce
  • Garlic
  • ground nut oil for frying


  1. First thing to do hammer the lemon grass to bruise it.
  2. Then add it to a high sided pan with a little oil to fry and add the chicken breast. fry off until almost cooked through then add the garlic and mushrooms and let them cook off for a few minutes.
  3. Then add the red pepper slices (as these are thinly sliced they won’t take long to soften).
  4. You now have the basic ingredients in the pan, it’s time to stat adding layers of flavour. Add 1 table-spoon of your Malay spice mix and give everything a really good stir to get it all coated.Give it 2 or 3 minutes.
  5. Now add the can of coconut milk and again get everything combined by giving the pan a good stir.
  6. You now have a nice creamy curry and you can stop there if it’s to your tastes but I like to add a couple more things which just make it extra yummy. Mix in 2 table spoons of oyster sauce and a handful of chopped coriander leaves.

There you, really easy Malay curry.

I serve it with rice and some fresh coriander sprinkled over the top but it works just as well with noodles and Kate loves flat breads to soak all the sauce up.





Elderflower champagne – part 1

elderflower champagne

I have a bit of a project on the go which is a little bit different from my normal cooking and brewing. I’m making my own champagne (well sparkling wine), using dried elderflowers. I’ve been encouraged by some of the girls at work and some friends giving me gentle nudges towards being brave and trying something new and of course fizzy is something most girls like a wee drop of now and again.

So why elderflower? Well, it’s a traditional drink in the UK, especially in South East England where it’s referred to as hedgerow wine, as obviously it’s making wine with locally collected ingredients instead of those specifically grown for the purpose.

There are lots of recipes out there and lots of advice on how to do this, but I wanted to take the opportunity to blog about making my champagne so that I could maybe steer people away from some of the really bad advice out there because some of it is downright dangerous. As someone with experience of brewing, it sometimes both terrifies me and disgusts me at the advice I see given. Everything from dangerous advice about bottling before the drink is finished fermenting to no hint of sanitation. Of course, it’s also good to remember that these hedgerow wines and cordials (non-alcoholic) have been made for generations and methods will differ as will traditions, but I do think basic safety and sanitation are important regardless of methods and desired outcome.

So here is how I am making my champers and I’ll write a wee post to update you all at each step of the way.

Step 1 – making the basic wine


  • 125g dried elderflower (it’s too late in the season for me to get fresh elderflower)
  • Juice and rind of 4 lemons (I was lucky to be able to use some of the lemons from my own tree)
  • 3.5kg sugar
  • yeast nutrient (2 teaspoons)


  • Add 5 liters of boiling water to a 5 gallon bucket or fermenting vessel if you have one (making sure it’s spotlessly clean and sanitised beforehand) and dissolve the sugar into it
  • Add the rind and juice of the lemons and the elderflower ( I add the elderflower to the boiling water to kill the natural yeast that lives in them. I want to control the fermentation process with my own yeast and so don’t want the natural, wild yeast to be able to take hold)
  • Top up to 22 litres with cold water and leave for a few hours until it is about 18 degrees C
  • Take a reading using a hydrometer (this is a brewing tool which helps you measure fermentation and alcohol. You can buy these very cheap)
  • Add your yeast and nutrient and leave to ferment.
  • After 3 days, remove the elderflower and lemon

 Important information

The process of fermentation is that the yeast you have added eats all the sugar available and as a by-product of this produces two things, alcohol and CO2. This production of CO2 is why I want to highlight this to you as there are lots of recipes and advice out there that tell you to leave your wine for a few days to bubble away (ferment) but after 3 or 4 days to bottle it. The theory being that your wine will carry on fermenting and producing CO2 and so this is how it gets fizzy in the bottle.


Please do not follow this advice no matter how pretty the website you’ve read it on or what celebrity chef tells you to do it.

If you bottle your wine while it is still fermenting, you have no way of knowing how much CO2 will be produced and therefore how much pressure the bottle will be under. This will lead to what is called bottle bombs. The bottles can’t take the pressure and and will explode. I mean explode, not break, not shatter – EXPLODE.

This is also why I chose to kill the natural yeast and add a yeast of my choice, to allow me to control fermentation.

My advice is that you let this first stage of fermentation finish completely before you bottle your wine. This may take 2 or 3 weeks but be patient let it finish and then when you do bottle it, you can control how much sugar the yeast has to eat and then also control how much co2 it will make. Thus get your lovely fizzy wine but also be safe.

You will know when the wine is finished fermenting by taking a specific gravity reading each day using your hydrometer and if the gravity reading is the same for 2 or more days, then it has finished.

My elderflower wine is fermenting away in my brew cupboard just now and I will bottle it this week-end (after 3 weeks) and then I’ll tell you all about controlling the secondary fermentation (in the bottle) to make it fizzy.

elderflower champagne and citra DIPA
elderflower champagne and citra DIPA

See how things turned out

Elderflower Champagne – Part 2

The full process, start to finish in step by step videos

Beer pairing – women and beer…

rosie beer

 “My sister, your grain – its beer is tasty, my comfort..”

– Song of Songs; Sumeria, 2100 B.C.


“She brews good ale, and thereof comes the proverb, Blessing of your heart, you brew good ale.”

– Shakespeare

In the beer and brewing industry, the idea of women drinking beer is often met with mockery and in some cases derision, think of the advertising the industry uses, scantily clad young women and the like which are obviously meant to appeal to the male drinker. Infact I remember the cans of tenants when I was young, each having a different scantily clad young women on it, the idea being to “collect the set”. So would you be surprised to learn that the history of beer is not only full of brewing women but some historians argue that women invented beer?

Historians locate the birthplace of beer around ancient Babylon, Sumeria and Egypt around 4000 years B.C.E.  In this time women were the sole brewers and enjoyed an important place in society making dozens of different kinds of beer.

In Sumeria, brewers were called “Sabtiem” and Sumerian brewers had the distinction amongst their people of being the only crafts and trades people who had a private deities to look over them – the goddesses Ninkasi  (the lady who fills the mouth) and Siries who watched over the daily ritual of brewing. Only women were allowed to brew and they made all sorts of beers from ingredients we’d now associate with the craft beer industry – spices, peppers, tree bark and even crab claws. Women even ran the taverns although the beer they sold was paid for in grain not money. This was the law of the land or the Code of Hammurabi.

“If a beer seller do not receive barley as the price of beer, but if she receive money…or make the beer measure smaller than the barley measure received, they (the judges) shall throw her (the brewster) into the water.”

In slightly more modern history, around the eight century C.E. the Vikings ravaged Europe bringing with them their beer or AUL from where the English word Ale is said to be derived. Viking brewers were again exclusively women and Norse law dictated that all brewing equipment was exclusively the property of women.

With the advent of public ale houses throughout Europe, women remained as “brewsters” the female term for a brewer but unless they were widows, were not allowed to hold the tavern license – this had to be held under their husbands name. However this meant that when the ale house sold bad beer or cheated a customer, the punishment of flogging fell upon the husband to suffer.

In a church in Ludlow, there is a carving of a dishonest ale wife being cast into hell by demons and she is holding a false bottomed jug with which she used to cheat her customers. The early churches even have the St Brigid who was said to have changed bath water to beer for a colony of thirsty lepers. (I’m resisting making a comment about changing water to wine)

With the industrial revolution the brewing industry became a high earning industry and with that women brewers almost disappeared and the industry has become the male dominated one we know today but there are still words like “bridal” in use today which come from the term Bride’s Ale. An ale which was made by the bride to be and her party and sold on the wedding day with the proceeds going to the bride.

So next time you see a women ordering ale raise your glass rather than snigger into it or if you work in the brewing industry, next time you are thinking about marketing how about you remember that scantily clad girls won’t make me buy your beer – but it will make me buy your competitors beer cause yes, women buy beer.

Making your own labels and pump clips for your home made beer

wpid-IMAG1832-1-1As many of our regular blog readers will know, I enjoy making labels and pump clips for my home-made beer almost as much as I enjoy making the beer itself. From this I’ve had a request for a blog post from some friends in the home brewing community to write a blog entry about how I go about making my own labels and sticking them to the bottles. I think this is something a lot of home brewers are thinking about just now as we sometimes give beer as Christmas presents so obviously you want people to know what beer you have given them but also it’s nice to give a gift that looks good.

Step 1

so where do I start? Well usually by looking at beers available in my local beer store or supermarket and deciding which labels I like and why. A lot of the time, the labels can influence our decision to buy a beer (even if we don’t like to admit it), so it’s a good exercise to do, what do I like about the label, what does the label imply, what assumptions am I making?

I also look online and one blog I have found which I love just for looking at really nicely done graphic design for the beer industry is They regularly show fantastic labels and poster and other beer paraphernalia and usually with a nice back story from the designers about they came to their decisions when designing. I would recommend popping onto the blog for a look and some ideas.

Step 2

So you have looked at other beer labels and decided on the kind of thing you like. Now you need to work out what size your label should be. The simplest way to do this is to measure one of the labels you liked.



Step 3

You have your label style idea, you have your label size. Next sketch your idea out on a bit of paper. This way you can keep adjusting your ideas if you realise you’ve forgotten something important or if things don’t look as good on paper as they did in your head. The important thing here is just to get your ideas down on paper; it doesn’t matter if you are a fantastic artist or if you just draw some boxes and a stick man. After all a lot of artisan products these days go for the “rustic/handmade” look.










Step 4

You have your label idea, now you need to decide how you are going to create it. Are you going to draw your label and then photocopy it or are you going to create it on the computer? What way suits you best?

If you do decide to create it on the computer, you might want to think about what software you will use. Graphic design software is great and offers you so much versatility in what you can do, but it’s also expensive. But a lot of software comes with a 30 day trial for free or there is even some free graphic design software out there.

Free software to try:

• GIMP –

• –

• Inkscape –

Try something out, look up YouTube videos to teach you how it works and then have a good play and see what you can do.

Here’s the finished label I made.












Step 5

Once you have your labels designed it’s time to print them out and attach. I’d recommend using a laserjet printer for this as the ink is less likely to run. I’ve found that the ink runs a little on deskjet printer so if I use a deskjet I also spray hairspray onto the labels after printer to help “fix” the ink.

Now you have some choices on how to attach your labels to your bottles. It depends on how you are going to treat the beer.

If you are giving the bottles away as gifts, you might want to either print onto sticky paper labels which you can buy in stationery stores of your could use PVU glue to attach them to your bottles. The last thing you want is for the label to come off.


The down side to doing this is that if you want to reuse bottles for another brew, these glued or sticky labels can be a right hassle to get off the bottle again.


If I’m just bottling for us to drink at home my solution is that I stick the labels on using milk. Yup plain old milk. If you coat a very thin layer on the back of the label it sticks perfectly to the bottle and in about an hour you have a perfectly affixed label that will come off really easily in a little hot water when you clean your bottles. I know some folk worry about the idea of using milk incase it smells but don’t worry. I don’t know the science bit, but it doesn’t smell.



There has been an update to this post published: to read it click on the link below


Some of my labels and pump clips




















The Road To Ruin: the original Hodgeheg seasonal ale

Well it’s that time of year again, pumpkin ale time. If you don’t remember from last year, we made pumpkin ale for thanksgiving at Mole End. It was such a success that we’re doing it again.

We opened the naming of the beer up to a poll right here on the blog with Valerie’s idea of “Cinderella’s Ruin” winning. It’s such a good name that I almost feel guilty that we’ve stolen a possible beer name from her and Dave.

So the road to ruin all started yesterday with the almost impossible task of finding 8 kg of pumpkin flesh about a month earlier than it is generally in the shops. All the usual beer ingredients were easy enough to get our hands on, in fact easier than usual as I now cycle home from work past the brewing shop, although cycling with that extra 6 kg of grain in my backpack was hard going. The pumpkin however was a bit of a challenge, so after visiting various supermarkets it was time to take on the advice of Luke and Valerie and look for tinned pumpkin.

Last year worked out perfectly as Luke (the very Mole of Mole End) had a load of frozen pumpkin in his chest freezer. Unfortunately we don’t have a chest freezer to store pumpkin in, but Valerie and Luke recommended trying tinned pumpkin. Our American friends will be very familiar with tinned pumpkin, but I must confess to having never seen such a thing. So off to the organic, slightly specialised green grocers in Edinburgh.

Tinned pumpkin is pureed pumpkin flesh, in a tin. That simple, so theoretically it should be just the same. The only thing I am concerned about is that it’s pureed, so I’m a little worried about how it will affect my ability to run water through my mash to extract all the lovely stuff from the grains. I didn’t have that worry last year as when I originally made this beer I used a different type of brewing where all the grain and pumpkin was in a fine mesh bag. I may resort to at least putting the pumpkin into a bag this year.

Unfortunately, the style of beer we are making takes around two months to be ready to drink (at its best anyhow) so to have it ready for thanksgiving on Nov 28th means getting a head start so until we have a huge chest freezer where we can store pumpkin flesh for the coming year, tinned pumpkin it is..

There may be some of you reading this and thinking, “Pumpkin beer? I’m sure I’ve never seen that in my local.” And you’d be right. Pumpkin ale is very much an American thing, especially around thanksgiving when all things pumpkin go bump in the night.

There are records of pumpkin beer in the states as early as 1801 although maybe not as we would recognise it today. The beer I’m making uses pumpkin as an additional flavouring, whereas back in the early years of the US, pumpkins were used as a source of fermentable sugar from which to make beer as the availability of barley wasn’t great. Nowadays chances are when you pick up a commercial pumpkin beer there’s no guarantee that there will even be pumpkin in your pumpkin beer. A large amount of commercial brewers add pumpkin pie spices to their beer to give it the association of pumpkin, but don’t actually include any pumpkin in the production of the beer.

I’m adding both, the spices are from Valerie’s pumpkin pie recipe, but it’s very subtle.

If you fancy trying to make my version of pumpkin beer, here’s my recipe (very simplified).

Cinderella’s Ruin -spiced pumpkin ale

  • 5 kg pale malt
  • 0.7 kg crystal malt 20L
  • 0.03 kg chocolate malt
  • 8 kg pumpkin flesh

Mash the grains and pumpkin at 68 degrees C for 60 mins

Boil the resulting wort for 60 mins with the following hop additions

  • Styrian Goldings 5.19% 30 g at beginning of the boil
  • Styrian Goldings 5.19% 30 g for 10 mins
  • Styrian Goldings 5.19% 30 g for 5 mins

I do a 2 stage fermentation;

2 weeks primary

2 weeks secondary (add your spices)

Then 30 days to condition.

Then enjoy, preferably with friends.

pumpkin ale brew day

Kate’s Springfest Ale

Winterfest has been and now spring has sprung… so… next comes Springfest :0)

Springfest is our celebration of spring and friends and we’ll be hosting a wee shin dig at ours in March. A shindig at ours means a beer for the occasion so Kate got to work creating her first beer recipe based on some of the beers she likes and little tweaks she’d like to make to them. So she came up with a recipe for a pale ale bursting with hoppy goodness.

It’s a bit of an American Pale Ale in style light and refreshing, perfect for a spring party, and we’ll be serving a keg of this to friends.

Kate has previously helped me with some kit brews, but she hasn’t seen much of my all grain brews, except today she helped every step of the way, so this beer is her idea, her recipe and she helped brew it too.

If you want the recipe it’s below.

Amt Name Type # %/IBU
4.20 kg Pale Malt, Maris Otter (5.9 EBC) Grain 2 98.8 %
0.05 kg Crystal Malt (135.0 EBC) Grain 3 1.2 %
10.00 g Perle [9.37 %] – Boil 60.0 min Hop 4 11.3 IBUs
10.00 g Citra [14.40 %] – Boil 30.0 min Hop 5 13.4 IBUs
0.25 tsp Irish Moss (Boil 10.0 mins) Fining 6
10.00 g Cascade [8.20 %] – Boil 10.0 min Hop 7 3.6 IBUs
5.00 g Citra [14.40 %] – Boil 10.0 min Hop 8 3.2 IBUs
10.00 g Cascade [8.20 %] – Boil 5.0 min Hop 9 2.2 IBUs
10.00 g Citra [14.40 %] – Boil 5.0 min Hop 10 3.5 IBUs
10.00 g Cascade [8.20 %] – Boil 0.0 min Hop 11 0.0 IBUs
10.00 g Citra [14.40 %] – Boil 0.0 min Hop 12 0.0 IBUs
1.0 pkg Ringwood Ale (Wyeast Labs #1187) [124.21 ml] Yeast 13
25.00 g Cascade [8.20 %] – Dry Hop 7.0 Days Hop 14 0.0 IBUs
25.00 g Citra [14.40 %] – Dry Hop 7.0 Days Hop 15 0.0 IBUs

So as usual here is a quick blurb of what happened today with some pics.

The Mash

mashThe first thing we did was weigh out our grains and make a porridge out of them with hot water. I looked after the water and temperatures as Kate has less experience of this, but she was right in there mixing it up.

We mashed at 66 degrees Celsius. Once it was all mixed and at the right temperature, we left it for an hour to allow all the sugars to come out of the grain.

As is now the tradition of my brew days, while the mash was going, I made some bread for dinner tonight (we’re having pulled pork – yum! Recipe will be on here soon).


We also had a little bit of unexpected help today, you’ve maybe heard of the Scottish brewers “Brew Dog”? Well we had Brew Cats…



You turn your back for two seconds and these two are in to everything to see what they aren’t involved in.

Shame I can’t actually put them to work!







The Boil

IMAG1131So, mash done, bread made and time to get the boil going, and true to her word, Kate measured out all the hops and added them at the intervals. Lots of citra and cascade, so this should be a nice, fresh, zingy beer.

Once the boil was over and cooled, I had a wee taste, and so far it’s spot on.

It’s a nice pale beer as well, which was Kate’s request – I have a tendency to make copper or ruby beers because that’s my preference. This time we made sure she got her request and this is a nice gold.



fermentor 1So last thing, all chilled, we transferred it to the fermenting bucket and added the yeast. Using Ringwoode yeast again as I was really pleased with this last time. So fingers crossed it doesn’t disappoint me this time round.

So that was Kate’s first all grain brew day :0)

I promise we’ll update you with the beer once it’s finished and also with stories and pictures of Springfest.




The beer is absolutely lovely!!!

sprinfest ale


Kate’s first beer – her own recipe and she helped to make it.




Lots of snow, so this weekend’s project will be indoors

first snowMusselburgh was hit yesterday afternoon by the snow storms that have been travelling around the UK, so it doesn’t look like much garden work will get done this weekend.

Instead I have a little indoor project. I’m going to build a brewing thermostat controlled power supply… yup, I am. :0) It will basically be a thermostat which switches power on and off determined by temperature, if it’s too hot power goes to one plug switching on maybe a fridge, if it’s too cold power goes to the plug with the heater. Simple concept. I’ll use it to regulate the temperature my beer is fermenting/conditioning at.

You can buy these things for about £80 but I’m going to make one and save myself around £50.

Step one – all the bits I need:

making my stc







  • Casing to mount it all too – £13
  • 3 core cable – £2
  • Gromit to be neat – £1.50
  • Wire connectors – £2.50
  • Digital Thermostat – £17

I had made one error which I didn’t realise until today, I bought a double socket but I actually needed two separate sockets so that they could be wired separately, so a wee trip to B&Q later and I was all set. (another £2.49 spent)

First thing to do was drill and cut the wholes in the box to fit the wires, the thermostat and the sockets, that made quite a mess but wasn’t as difficult as I thought, although the finished product isn’t all perfectly neat and symmetrical… but I don’t care I made it and it works!!!!

One all drilled out, I fixed the sockets and thermostat into place and then wired all the different bits and pieces together using the cable connectors. I’ve been planning this project for a few weeks so had lots of time to research and get wiring diagrams from the web or help from the friendly people at various brew forums I use.

And once all wired, I switched on and hey presto… no bang!

I set it to switch heating on at 19 degrees and cold on at 23 degrees and then tested it with a glass of water and my now very warm hands (I got quite excited). It all works perfectly and am I feeling smug??

Hell yeah!!!!!!

Finished product

finished stc