Since the Covid-19 lockdown I’ve vowed to support local businesses wherever possible. In the semi-rural area around my home in Leighton Buzzard I can buy milk direct from the dairy and beer direct from the brewery. Self-sufficiency is the logical next step. I’m not going to start keeping chickens in my garden like the Good family from the 1970s comedy series, The Good Life, but I have retrieved my old home-brewing equipment from the loft. I should stress that my home brew is intended to compliment the offerings from local pubs. Nothing’s going to keep me from the Black Lion when the lockdown ends. I’ll still buy beer from the brewery to drink at home for the sake of variety. No self-respecting beer hound sticks to one particular beer, or even beer style. It’s only Morrison’s who will lose out a bit.

I wasn’t expecting much from my first brew in several years. I’m still practising my skills. My brew is based on a kit from Wilkinson’s. The kit method is easy; it’s just sterilising the equipment that’s a bit of a chore. Everything needs to be scrupulously clean. Bacteria that can taint beer needs to be eradicated.

DSCNThere are three main beer-brewing methods: kit, extract, or full mash. With a kit, the malt comes mixed with hops and pre-boiled. You basically just bung a can of malty gunge into a bucket with water, sugar and yeast. You keep it somewhere warm for a few weeks to ferment, then put it somewhere cooler to allow the beer to clear. If you have a car that you’re not using for a couple of weeks, park it somewhere warm and it’ll make an excellent site for your fermenting bucket.

With the extract method you need a bit more equipment, such as a boiler. The malt extract doesn’t contain hops so you have to buy fresh hops and boil it up with sugar and yeast.

DSCNThe full grain method is essentially the same method used by commercial breweries, just using smaller buckets. This is serious brewing and is not to be taken lightly – that’s why I’m building up to it gradually. Full grain brewing involves mashing your own malted grain, straining and spraying (sparging) various liquids. More bulky equipment is needed, so full grain brewing in a small flat probably isn’t possible. For best results commandeer a man cave.

When the beer has cleared you can serve the beer from various vessels. You can attach small gas bulbs to a barrel, similar to those used in soda syphons. The problem for purists like me is that the beer is no longer real ale because of the introduction of gas. You might therefore prefer to transfer the beer to a polypin; a collapsible plastic container sometimes seen in pubs to hold micro-brewed real ale or cider in – not Strongbow, but that painfully-dry orange-coloured scrumpy that takes the top of your head off. The beer goes off quickly, so unless you’re a hard user you might want to bottle some of it. This takes a bit of work and it can be messy, especially if you lose control of the syphon and flood the kitchen floor with sticky beer. Thankfully the wife was asleep when I disinfected twelve swing-top bottles in the bath, and went to work with my syphon in the kitchen.

DSCNI bottled twelve litres and added a teaspoon of sugar in each one to help secondary fermentation. It cleared after a couple of days. I sampled it after the recommended time. The resulting brew wasn’t quite the apex.  It was drinkable, but not something I’d like to be served in a pub. I’m not drinking it neat, but mixed with lemonade it makes a decent shandy. My cheap beer will also be used to make fish batter. As to the stuff left in the barrel/fermenter, it’s little better than vinegar. I don’t know if this is recommended by gardening experts but I treated my sunflower shoots to a gallon of beer to aid growth.

It was a useful experiment and I remain upbeat. My next step will be to buy a boiler and brew up malt extract and fresh hops to my own specification. I need to get rid of several litres of dodgy ale first to free up the bottles. To be continued…

Man Cave on Tour

How’s this for a blokey activity? The Home Brew Shop in Farnborough are offering an All Grain Mashing Course. £36 buys you five hours practical tuition on mashing grain, wort chilling and sparging techniques. You are encouraged to discuss hops, grain and yeast with other like-minded folk. A buffet lunch is included, and tea and coffee is available all day. For added excitement you are invited to bring samples of your own home-brewed beer. Bring the missus for a romantic day out as you might need someone to drive you home.