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Lizzie’s Beer – A Tale of Two Ales

Lizzie’s Beer – A Tale of Two Ales

Drums of Autumn

Jamie chewed industriously, washing down a large bite with a gulp of ale.  He made an involuntary face, pursed his lips to spit, then changed his mind and swallowed.

“Ach!  Mrs. Lizzie’s been at the mash again.”  He grimaced and took a remedial bite of biscuit to erase the taste.

Roger grinned at his father-in-law’s face.

“What’s she put in it this time?”  Lizzie had been trying her hand at flavored ales – with indifferent success.

Jamie sniffed warily at the mouth of the stone bottles.

“Anise?” he suggested, passing the bottles to Roger.

Roger smelt it, wrinkling up his nose involuntarily at the alcoholic whiff.

“Anise and ginger,” he said.  Nevertheless, he took a cautious sip.  He made the same face Jamie had, and emptied the bottle over a compliant blackberry vine.

Diana Gabaldon, The Fiery Cross (Chapter 86 – There’s a Hole in the Bottom of the Sea)

It was the best of ales, it was the worst of ales, it was a brew of honeyed sweetness, it was a fermentation gone bad, it was a beverage of Light, it was a Dark mash that smelled of cheese made from feet – in short, the first delicious batch of Lizzie’s Beer was very unlike the evil second one that I’m chocking up to experience.   A comparison is required.

(That’s the end of my lame Dicken’s reference — Outlander ahead — I promise)


My Englishman and I like to travel to Victoria every season or so and brew a batch of beer very much like a Newcastle Brown at our favourite UBrew.  We measure, mix and brew the mash in their huge stainless steel kettle, then leave the staff to transfer it to the racking area and clean up our mess while we rush to make the afternoon ferry back home.

We return a couple of weeks later with our empties to bottle our latest batch.  It’s fun, quick and easy at the UBrew, where they supply all of the equipment and sanitizer flows from taps.

Brewing at home from a kit is a lot more labour intensive and messy.  And although it’s also cheaper, I was reluctant to buy a bunch of equipment for my first-ever attempt.  I hate getting stuck with a bunch of once-used purchases after my newest hobby turns out to be less fun than hoped.

(That ever happen to anyone else?)


Instead of hopping (sorry) right into an authentic batch of “beer in a barrel” as Lizzie would have made, I wet my feet first by brewing from the kit pictured up top.  The kit came with detailed instructions, a list of equipment required, and some very helpful tips.  After doing a bit more research on the internet, I chose to skip some of the instructions and bodge most of the equipment. (But it turns out well, I promise.)

The most important thing when brewing at home is to work clean and sanitize EVERYTHING.  The picture above was taken in my cluttered basement, but I swear to you that everything involved in the brewing was soaked in a bleach solution for at least 20 minutes.

Next time (and there will be a next time – kit beer is cheap, homemade fun) I will buy sanitizer from the home brew store (it’s faster than bleach), as well a hydrometer to monitor the fermentation process and measure alcohol content.  I’m rather fond of the siphon tube I bought for 80 cents a foot at the hardware store, but I may exchange it for one with a bottling rod, which will reduce the mess.

And don’t be fooled…bottling is messy.


I got 21 litres of really delicious Honey Blonde Ale, which is a little less than the yield on the kit, but one of the buckets (and the sediment inside) got stirred up a bit during the siphoning into bottles, so I decided to pitch it rather than risk very cloudy ale.  I am incredibly happy with the results, and My Englishman is impressed.  We’re still enjoying the fruits of my labour.

I didn’t have a hydrometer for this first batch, so I can’t tell you exactly how strong it is, but I would put it in the 5.5-6.5% range.  The brewing process takes just short of 3 weeks, then the ale conditions in the bottles for another 2 weeks.  That’s 5 weeks from start to finish.


On the same day I bought the beer kit, I also went to a farm supply store and bought a 20kg sack of seed barley.  From there I took it home, and following the instructions in this short ebook, I malted 4kg in my oven.

It’s a warm, homey smell, and I can now safely say I know exactly what the malting shed on The Ridge smelled like.


A much trickier (and less likely to succeed) experiment used organic apples and juice to attempt to produce a yeast culture.  I won’t show you the after picture from 3 days later, but I will tell you Claire would have been happy to test a sample for penicillin spores.

Good thing I bought a few packages of brewers yeast, eh?

I may try again.  It’s a very difficult thing to do, but harvest time is a good time to try, when the apples are fresh off the tree and the juice is just pressed.


After the malted barley had sat in a cool dark place for about a month to develop its sugars, it was time to make my first mash.  Grinding baked, unhulled barley in a food processor is an almost-violent process.  It’s LOUD and hard on the machine.

As you already know, this batch was unsuccessful, so I’m not giving you a step by step process until I’ve achieved consistent success.  However, if you do find yourself giving homemade malting a try one day, you’ll want to clear the room and tell everyone not to come back for at least 20 minutes.  It takes that long to get a fine enough grind.  Or, you can buy malt powder at a home brew store.  I won’t tell anyone.

I mixed my homemade malt powder with half the amount of rolled oats, then brewed it with successive additions of boiling water.  It was basically a big tub of oatmeal that I strained after several hours.


After it had cooled to body temperature, I pitched in my package of brewer’s yeast into the brew and covered it securely.  The pic above shows it happily bubbling away the next day.

Once again, absolutely everything used in the process must be sanitized.  As well, the more often you open the container to check on things, the bigger chance there is that airborne microbes will get in and spoil all your hard work.  (Which is what I suspect happened to this batch.)

Something happened between day 4 and day 5…all was well, and then it wasn’t.  I’ll spare you the gory details and end the story by dumping the contents of the bucket in the compost and airing out the house.


I turned a couple of cups of the leftover mash into dog biscuits along with an egg, 1/2 cup of peanut butter and enough flour to make a cookie dough. I baked them in a 350 F oven until dry and crunchy.

Our dog is pretty small, so I threw the bulk of the mash onto the compost pile.


I still have enough malted barley to try again.  I hope to start the next batch early this week, to have it finished in time for our departure.

You see, we’re going to Scotland!  Two weeks in the Highlands is in my immediate future!

Any tips for sightseeing, or home brewing for that matter?  Please leave a comment below.


  1. Georgia at In Search of a Muse
    April 8, 2013 at 6:23 am

    I’ve never brewed beer or ale at home, but I’ve gotten quite good at brewing homemade cider and mead that I would be proud to serve to any of the inhabitants of Lallybroch or the Ridge.

    You’re absolutely right that sanitation is vital…there is more than a little alchemy about the process and the smallest incursion of an unfriendly microbe can have devastating results.

    How did your pup like the malt biscuits?

    • Theresa
      April 9, 2013 at 12:21 pm

      I can’t believe I forgot to say how much Koda loved the biscuits. They are a real treat!

  2. Needs Mead
    April 8, 2013 at 7:43 am

    The skin of organic ginger often has lots of great yeasts, and I’ve used it to great effect to make natural ginger beer.

    Love that you tried malting your own barley- that’s still on my to-do list! 🙂

    • Theresa
      April 9, 2013 at 12:21 pm

      I’m going to have to do that, Chelsea…thanks!

  3. Kristina Gruell
    April 8, 2013 at 9:39 am

    I really want to try this! I can’t wait until you have perfected your methods. My husband can’t, either.

  4. Paschendale
    April 8, 2013 at 10:29 am

    Definitely try a clear carboy rather than a bucket next time, so you can see what is going on during the fermentation and maybe catch a problem in time to be able to fix it rather than having to pitch the lot.

    • Theresa
      April 8, 2013 at 11:29 am

      good advice! I do have an old glass carboy that I bought at a garage sale years ago…I’ll invest in a couple of cleaning items to get it spic and span before I try again…thanks!

  5. Jeanne
    April 9, 2013 at 8:26 am

    Hi Theresa,

    I can’t wait to hear how the next batch turns out.

    Perhaps a visit to a “single malt” distillery while in Scotland?

    • Theresa
      April 9, 2013 at 12:20 pm

      Jeanne! We were actually meant to spend 3 nights in the Tullibardine Cottage near Auchterarder (sp?)…that fell through, but we are taking their gold medal tour (including cask tasting) while we’re there…can’t wait. 🙂

  6. Kate
    April 14, 2013 at 1:01 pm

  7. Betsy Green
    April 14, 2013 at 4:22 pm

    Theresa! As the wife of a homebrewer you are well on your way! We will be happy to offer any help or advice! We also use the grains to make dog biscuits! I make a huge batch and freeze them. We bake for 350 then dry out at 200 for 2 hours. DH uses software to figure out his recipes so if you need I’m sure he would help you out – I love to suggest spices addition to the beer- he makes a lemon cream ale to die for on a hot summer day – not exactly Outlander inspired! But his Christmas ale – full of spices could be a Lizze invention! I was lucky enough to have breakfast with Diana this past weekend! Such an honor!

    • Theresa
      April 15, 2013 at 7:01 am

      Great news, Betsy! Thanks! Did you have blood pudding for breakfast? 🙂

    • Betsy Green
      April 15, 2013 at 7:32 am

      NO! 🙂 I stick to cold cereal or Parritch. 🙂

    • Theresa
      April 15, 2013 at 7:46 am

      LOL – I’m heading off to the land of Blood Pudding this week, and I’ll eat enough for both of us! 🙂

  8. leighb5197
    April 15, 2013 at 12:33 am

    I had a boyfriend between the years 1992-95. He wanted to make beer, and he insisted on buying all the equipment, from our joint household account of course! He succeeded in producing different beers and ales, and did it aseptically. However, he had no patience, and insisted on opening a bottle a day when it was obvious it hadn’t aged enough. By the time it WOULD have been ready, there was nothing left, and I never got to have any! And he kept all the equipment when I moved out. Actually, the only good thing that came out of that time was my dog, Worf, who like Rollo was half wolf. The other half was Alaskan malamute, and that combination produces a beautiful, genius-level intelligence, stubborn, very dominant animal. He was being raised to fight pit bulls and escaped as a 3 month old puppy. My sister, who ran a NYC playground for disabled children, rescued dogs, and certified therapy dogs to work with the children, called me when he turned up there. She called me to say she’s found MY dog. Was she ever right! There is no room here to describe how special and unique Worf was. (He would have enjoyed those biscuits, known how to open doors and tins to get at them, but waited for permission to do so.) Worf crossed into the Light ln 2006.

    I’d love to learn how to make mead. I’ve done a lot of canning, and was hoping that i could be use to preserve it. I’m pretty sure the answer’s no, but I had to ask.

    BTW, does anyone know of any online programs that teach Gaelic (Scottish, of course!), and/or Welsh. I know I’ll never make it there in this lifetime, but I also know I’ve spent more than a few lives in each, as well as being a Sassenach myself, tho I sure it was in an earlier time. (No, I’m not a wacko, I just believe in reincarnation and Karma).

    One last thing. I was reading Diana’s website and couldn’t find a way to ask her questions directly. If there are any Doctor Who fans out there, something occurred to me after reading that she was watching the show as she wrote the first book: considering his abilities as a time traveler, and his long time knowledge of his favorite adopted planet and favorite island nation on it, do you think he’d know about the stone circles and ley lines and such? Feel free to message me back!

  9. dreadgerbil
    April 15, 2013 at 9:37 pm

    My phone crashed while posting so I’m going to try commenting again.
    As a Scotsman and a brewer I’d be happy to give you some advice and help you build a few recipes. You’ve made a good start but there are a few things which caused issues and it looks like you had a nasty wee infection. But I think you can redo it effectively and for minimal cost. Likewise, if you want some touring ideas for your trip I can make some suggestions.

    • Theresa
      April 16, 2013 at 6:52 am

      Thank you DreadGerbil! (love your screen name)

      I may just take you up on your offer of advice once we get back from our trip.

      Speaking of which, we’ll be staying 3 nights in Auchterarder, very nearby Glen Eagles golf course. We plan to do a day trip to Stirling one day, but don’t have a lot of other plans for that stretch. Any suggestions?

    • dreadgerbil
      April 25, 2013 at 7:59 am

      Sorry it took me fleece to get back to you. We’re moving house and it has been insane.
      I don’t know if you’re on holiday already but here are a few ideas.
      Near Auchterarder you have the School of Falconry which is great. There’s also a wee library, Innnerpeffray, which is Scotland’s oldest lending library. There’s the Tullibardine distillery, too.
      If you can get far enough south, go to the Beatrix Potter Garden. On the way back up swing through Aberfoyle for some good fishing and great traditional sweeties at the local shop.

  10. denizb33
    April 16, 2013 at 6:23 pm

    I’ve always wanted to try beer making! Each step of the process sounds like fun. Hope you’re having a great time in Scotland! I’ve only been to Edinburgh so far…

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