I had agreed to write this article for this edition of London Drinker before the coronavirus crisis. Perhaps this will inspire you to have a go when normality returns.
I have been an enthusiastic consumer of beer for ages but, about two years ago, I decided to learn more about beer and become a more discerning drinker. At the time I wanted to get a handle on all the new hop varieties I was reading about on pump clips and also to understand the differences between beer styles – for example between porters and stouts.
As I read about beer, I became increasingly interested in brewing. I fancied having a go but there were some serious obstacles: I have very little space; the cost commitment is significant if the kit only gets used once; I wasn’t sure I could do it without support and, frankly, my memories of home brew from chemist shop kits are not good. I stumbled upon Brew Club when I was searching the internet for brewing clubs in London. They were offering an all grain beginners class for £120, which included all the gear and ingredients plus support. At the end you would walk away with 20 litres of bottled beer. I decided to go for it.
I arrived on Saturday at 10.00 am for the class, held in a railway arch (where else?) just across from Hackney Central station and joined a class with four other people. We each picked a recipe from the three available, in my case an oatmeal stout. The staff explained the brewing process, how to use the equipment and led us through the practicalities. There are a team of three who help with the brewing, two Canadians (Rob Berezowski and Adam Khaderi) and one native Eastender (Ian Morton) who are all experienced brewers. The equipment is very good, including the German made Braumeister, which is programmable and makes the operation surprisingly easy. By the end of the session my proto beer was sitting in a fermenter in the temperature controlled fermentation room.
Two weeks later I returned to bottle my beer and a few weeks after that it was ready to drink. I was surprised how good it was and my friends assured me that they wouldn’t have known that it wasn’t professionally brewed.
Since then I have brewed four more times. It would have been five but for lockdown. A session, including fermentation and bottling, costs £50, or five for £200, and help and support is always on hand. Most ingredients can be bought at Brew Club, which is convenient and practical. It works out that so long as you have the bottles (which are surprisingly expensive) a 500 ml bottle of beer costs about £1.50. The stuff in the brewing books now makes sense to me and I am experimenting with different grains, hops and yeasts. I have an idea about what I appreciate in a beer and how to achieve that. I am now thinking about brewing a porter to enter into a competition, but that’s another story.
Actually handling the ingredients and making the beer really helps to identify all the flavours and where they come from. I think that this experience has made me a more discerning and appreciative drinker. It’s a voyage of discovery and I really want to get back to it. I started wanting to learn about hops. I hadn’t realised how much more there was to learn.
Perhaps this has given you something to think about. I certainly recommend having a go.