Session #132: Home Brewing Conversations

Illustration: home brewing hydrometer.

This is our contribution to the monthly exercise in collective beer blogging which this time is hosted by Jon Abernathy at The Brew Site who asks us to reflect on home brewing.

We winced a bit at this one. Over the years we’ve writ­ten about why we love home brew­ing, why we stopped home brew­ing, and why we start­ed again. But we haven’t brewed in ages, or felt the urgent dri­ve to do so. Jon has prompt­ed us to inter­ro­gate our­selves.

Question One: Why is the home brewing kit still in the attic six months after we moved to Bristol?

There are pos­i­tive rea­sons. We’re in a new part of the world with lim­it­ed time off work which we want to spend explor­ing, not watch­ing a pot that nev­er boils. We’ve been busy tick­ing pubs and get­ting to know the local brew­eries. And (this may or may not be pos­i­tive depend­ing on whether you believe it is the job of beer blog­gers to sac­ri­fice their health in the War on Pro­hi­bi­tion) we don’t drink as much as we used to – we only need so much beer!

But there’s at least one poor excuse: we’re still sulk­ing because the last few beers we made were duds. We read the books, we bought the apps, we pro­cured the fan­ci­est ingre­di­ents from the Malt Miller, and we sani­tised every­thing with­in half a mile of our house. Twice. After all that, the beer was still basi­cal­ly crap – a bit rough, a bit acidic, a waste of time and mon­ey.

Homebrewing yeast, book, notes and bottle.

Question Two: So why bring the brewing kit at all?

We had lim­it­ed space in the removals van and got rid of lots of stuff, includ­ing about 150 books, but for some rea­son we kept the boil­er, the mash tun, and the thou­sand bits of eas­i­ly lost cop­per and plas­tic. Clear­ly there is unfin­ished busi­ness. The itch lingers.

It might nev­er get used again – there’s hard­ly a house in Britain that doesn’t have a load of dusty home-brew kit in the back of a cup­board – but it’s good to know it’s there.

If we find a par­tic­u­lar­ly inter­est­ing recipe in the archives we can at least make a stab at brew­ing some ver­sion of it. (Our last real­ly suc­cess­ful beer was a 19th cen­tu­ry Whit­bread pale ale from Ron Pattinson’s mar­vel­lous book which turned out funky and fas­ci­nat­ing.) If we wake up one Sat­ur­day morn­ing with the urge to brew we could be fill­ing a fer­ment­ing ves­sel by teatime. (Bris­tol has actu­al bricks-and-mor­tar home-brew­ing shops.) And we some­times day­dream about using it to make some mad, strong, beast­ie-rid­dled keep­ing beer for mix­ing with stuff from the super­mar­ket as we’ve done with Orval in the past.

Or maybe it’s just sen­ti­ment. You’d be sur­prised how many mem­o­ries a plas­tic buck­et can hold.

7 thoughts on “Session #132: Home Brewing Conversations”

  1. > the beer was still basi­cal­ly crap
    Did you use a fer­men­ta­tion cham­ber (e.g. con­vert­ed fridge)? It was only when I began care­ful­ly con­trol­ling tem­per­a­ture that my home brew became good (in my hum­ble opin­ion any­way).

    1. No – didn’t have room, couldn’t be both­ered with the tech­ni­cal chal­lenge. We’ve made per­fect­ly decent beer with­out one, though.

      1. These days you can get around the need for fer­men­ta­tion con­trol by using kveik, which is start­ing to become avail­able through Omega and the Yeast Bay (although it seems to sell out very quick­ly!) and which is effec­tive­ly clean at any tem­per­a­ture that you’re like­ly to get in a British garage.

        Water chem­istry and ingre­di­ents are the oth­er big­gies, although I’d have thought that Cor­nish water would have been OK (but Lon­don water is shock­ing), and eg mod­ern dry yeast/extract are huge­ly bet­ter than the old ones.

        The time thing is man­age­able – using alpha extract rather than bit­ter­ing hops knocks your boil time down to “long enough to get rid of DMS & pre­cur­sors” so 20–30 min­utes, and by using either extract or an overnight mash and then doing no-chill (fill a con­tain­er right up so oxy­gen is exclud­ed and leave overnight) you can break it down into chunks that are doable on school nights. If that makes the dif­fer­ence between mak­ing beer and not, then that’s a win.

        Hadn’t realised you brewed, so apolo­gies if I’ve made com­ments in the past that assumed you didn’t. I do think it’s a real­ly good thing to do for any­one who cares about beer – even if it’s just a one-off help­ing a friend or doing a U-brew or some­thing, it just helps you under­stand things so much bet­ter.

        I’d agree that drink­ing is a lim­it­ing fac­tor on brew­ing – although it helps once you realise that you don’t have to actu­al­ly brew a full 5 gal­lons. I use it part­ly for play­ing around with his­tor­i­cal stuff, and also just exper­i­ment­ing with ingre­di­ents to under­stand them bet­ter – I’m real­ly inter­est­ed to have a go with kveik this sum­mer for instance.

  2. Great sug­ges­tion David.

    Is the issue the time of year – ie you can make good home­brew in the win­ter but not in the sum­mer ? ( or the oth­er way around, or height of sum­mer or depths of win­ter )

  3. One prob­lem might be that your stan­dards are high­er than a typ­i­cal homebrewer’s would be. It takes a while for some­one to learn to brew beer as well as what’s eas­i­ly avail­able on the shelf these days.

    That said, I’ve found that porter is a very for­giv­ing style, so maybe con­sid­er that for when you want to get your feet wet again? Or some­thing like gose, which has got­ten a lot eas­i­er with mod­ern tech­niques.

    Or, if tem­per­a­ture con­trol is your con­cern, obvi­ous­ly some­thing like a sai­son works great. Though actu­al­ly, in my expe­ri­ence a gose can fer­ment pret­ty warm too.

    (By the way, apolo­gies if this posts twice, I’m hav­ing tech­ni­cal dif­fi­cul­ties.)

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