Home Brewing Mojo

Homebrewing yeast, book, notes and bottle.

We had a bit of a wobble when it came to home brewing, hardly touching the kit for more than a year, but now the magic seems to be back.

What went wrong? A couple of batches that didn’t turn out as we’d hoped. A load of lager that froze because we made a stupid mistake with a fridge. A few late starts because we didn’t have a bit of pipe or a tap, which in turn led to tired out, late finishes. And, of course, the increasing availability of the kind of beer we wanted to drink at reasonable prices on the high street.

A 25kg sack of malt went untouched until we decided it was probably past its best and, anyway, might start to attract vermin, so we threw it away. What a waste.

The kit literally gathered dust.

Then, last October, we gave ourselves a stern talking to and ordered just enough stuff for a single brew. If it wasn’t fun, and the beer was rotten, we’d made no serious commitment.

Amazingly, it went better than ever. Having had a break, somehow the routine had embedded itself as habit and we suddenly knew what to do without panicking, rushing or repeatedly consulting guidance online. Water was heating before breakfast, recipe formulated over a plate of scrambled eggs. We didn’t make any stupid mistakes — forgetting to fit the hop strainer, leaving taps open, breaking thermometers in the mash — the kind of thing we used to do all the time.

Giving up on liquid yeast and just pitching dry yeast straight into the fermenting vessel seems to have removed one entire level of stress, too.

Even cleaning seemed easy. (Bar the frustration of trying to buy thin bleach which is apparently on its way to extinction.) We were done by lunchtime leaving the afternoon free for a session in the Star Inn.

The resulting HLA wasn’t amazing but it wasn’t bloody bad either and we achieved exactly the kind of lower bitterness, high aroma Proper-Job-type hop character we were aiming for.

Since then we’ve managed to not screw up a batch of lager, not screw up another HLA and, today, (tempting fate) we’re in the process of not screwing up a Victorian porter.

With less anxiety, brewing leaves plenty of long gaps for reading, watching films, undertaking errands, so that it feels like a kind of productive loafing. We’re glad to have it back in our lives.

7 replies on “Home Brewing Mojo”

I don’t brew as much as I would like, mainly because I need to buy a second fridge for keeping kegs in while polishing off the one in the kegerator (I guess I could build a bigger kegerator though). I do though have a habit of looking at some people’s kits and wondering if it is really all necessary. I do an improvised variation on brew in a bag, using the bag in a cooler as a kind of false bottom, and doing a couple of batch sparges to get more out of the grain – I average about 75% efficiency. Given the rustic nature of my setup I call it ‘homely brew’, but I rarely have bad batches, and even rarer do I have something I wouldn’t happily pay money for in the pub. Dry yeast is definitely the way to go, unless trying to recreate something particular. My routine is so down pat now that if I start at 6 in the morning, I am done by lunchtime.

Will you be joining the International Homebrew Project this year to help create an ‘American Mild’ style?

I always find it interesting how some homebrewers – because of their setup, their water supply, what they brew and so on – can get away with not stressing about certain things. F’rinstance, my dad is of the Graham Wheeler school and produces a consistently nice line in trad bitters without even thinking about DMS (because ale malt) or temperature control (because the utility room stays at a fairly constant temperature anyway), to the point that he was a bit surprised to find out how much time some people spend worrying – often legitimately – about that sort of stuff. If he tried to brew high-temperature-fermenting saisons with all pilsner malt then it’d probably be relevant, but he doesn’t so it isn’t.

Learning to live with our pathetic 58% efficiency is also part of it – we spent too much time stressing about why it wasn’t 70% or more.

I like the last point, about how much free time it gives you. I haven’t made any marmalade this year – mainly because I’ve pretty much stopped eating it & I’ve still got at least a year’s supply – but reading that I immediately flashed back to clearing a day for making it, and then having loads of free time in between the hectic & exhausting parts.

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