I’ve wanted to try homebrewing for awhile and finally had the motivation when Jess and Phil sent around invitations for a homebrew festival for the coming summer. Invitations were sent early enough to give us all time to try brewing our own and bring homebrews of whatever we wanted (ale, wine, sloe gin, whathaveyou). Living in the UK is (quite obviously) a treat for beer lovers: cask ales are ubiquitous and brewery traditions are incredibly long-standing. There are experimental microbreweries everywhere, but there’s also your great-great-great grandfather’s brew on tap.
I had virtually no equipment to start with, so had to get everything new and really weigh up the advantages and drawback of every little tool. I kept it as simple as I could. If you’re just starting off, I would really urge you to pick a kit rather than trying to do anything complicated with hops and mashes. Although the range in flavour could be much larger when you get into your own mashes and start using adjuncts, it’s too complicated (and incomprehensible). There’s also too much room for error and therefore impurities or infection.
I chose a best bitter because amber ales (rather than pale) are more forgiving in their range of flavour. Brown or amber ales are less dependent on controlled conditions and the flavours are more fruity, which means they can develop under a greater range of conditions. Initially I went hunting for a kit to make beer I knew I already loved (for example, Bells beers), but found fairly quickly that most breweries don’t sell kits of their beer. If you want to make something close, you can find clone recipes online but they are complicated.
It might seem like the simplest beer to start with would be lager, but don’t even think about it. Lager requires a different set of skills, more equipment, and very carefully controlled temperatures.
I was recommended How to Brew: Everything You Need to Know to Brew Beer Right the First Time by John Palmer, which is also supposed to be a great intro, and although it’s freely available online, I needed something I could read away from the screen. This wiki article is pretty good.
Some of my initial questions were:
- Should I use brewing sugar?
- Should I use the packet of yeast provided in the kit, or get liquid yeast?
- Is an autosiphon worth the extra cost?
- What’s the best water source available to me?
- When will each beer style reach its peak in flavour or ABV?
- Do I also need a carboy?
- (What if I don’t like it? What if I wind up with 40 sour pints?)
There are a lot of variables to think about, but don’t get too worried.
I ended up buying:
- Best Bitter beer kit
- Brewing sugar
- Fermenter barrel
- Bottles (Grolsch-style, so they can be reused)
- Sterilizing chemicals (baby bottle liquid cleaner works for bottles, especially if you have a dishwasher)
After I bottled the beer and the yeast went to town on the sugar (creating alcohol), I started thinking about naming the beer. After much sketching and thinking, I went with Grimwoods because it’s a bitter and drawing a grim wood with bitter awkward faces was irresistable. Also, sounds like a generally appropriate name.
Jess ordered tons of old beer mats online to make homemade bunting. Such a creative idea.
This one was particularly amazing as you can make a little heiny with your hand.
Some of the ladies of the festival
Mike’s, mine and Phil’s homebrews
Molly – the party’s sweetest guest.
I was SO GIDDY around Molly
Probably showing Jess a picture of Molly…
Phil’s dad helping me determine the alcohol level in my beer. It was just over 5%.
Belated Phil birthday celebration!
Spoons and skittles-flavored vodka shots
Next morning’s hair of the dog
Bye beautiful backyard!