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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