It was with some trepidation that I agreed to try my hand at homebrewing for the first time. While drinking beer is a pastime I’m very comfortable with, I can’t say that I’m overly confident in the kitchen. Our new breadmaker quickly fell out of my favour after I accidentally added an extra tablespoon of salt to a loaf, and I spent most of my life thinking that using a cake mix from a box was “baking from scratch”.
So as someone who struggles to follow exact instructions, brewing felt like a daunting task. I regard it as something that is closer in nature to a chemical experiment than a Nigella Lawson recipe. With exact temperatures, timings, quantities and ingredients to follow, any slip up or oversight is bound to create a batch of beer simply not up to standard – which is the last thing you want after investing several weeks into crafting your own brew.
Luckily enough, the Basic Homebrewing Starter Kit (starts at £35.00) so comprehensively provides you with everything you need that I felt confident I could handle all eventualities. A small batch, all-grain brewing kit from Homebrewtique, it provides you with a labelled 12L pot, 12 bottle set, recipe pack, a fermentation pail, thermometer, bottling wand, brewing bag and even bottle labels. Homebrewtique’s aim is to enable the aspiring homebrewer to make a beer entirely from scratch as easily as possible, and upon laying out the equipment and ingredients I certainly felt like I was on par with the professionals.
For the more established homebrewer who already has most of their equipment – or if you’ve got this kit and are ready to brew your next batch – individual recipe kits (£22.00 each) are all you need to get started. You can choose from 12 different flavours, ranging from an India Black Ale to a White Ale or California Common Ale. Each pack contains a detailed instruction booklet and reference guide, milled grains, pre-measured hops, speciality yeast, brewer’s sugar, kettle finings and sanitiser sachets.
Feeling well equipped and with a helping hand from an experienced homebrewer (my dad), I decided to try my hand at a 4.7% ABV Milk Stout, which promises to be a beer that “ages well”. The instruction booklet takes a bit of time to get used to – there’s a basic recipe that can be applied to any kit, which you then cross-reference with a “quick brew guide” for your individual recipe – but the instructions are clear, concise, and easy to follow.
My overall impression of brewing is that it was a very long day! The Homebrewtique kit involves a mash phase, where you steep the grains in warm water and then remove with a brew bag before adding any other ingredients. It was a lot easier than we expected and making the wort from scratch provided a real authentic experience to the process. Whether this added step is a bonus or not is certainly down to individual preferences – making the wort itself ended up adding time onto the day, but for a true traditionalist who wants an authentic brewing experience this is very welcomed.
A few frantic hours followed of trying to heat up and then chill down the huge vat of soon-to-be beer to the ideal temperatures on a tiny electric stove, which I must admit wasn’t the easiest task. Luckily, my brew day happened to coincide with a snow day, so rather than make an ice bath in my sink I was able to stick the pot out in the snow for the big chill. Adding the ingredients in the right order was a breeze by comparison to temperature control – everything was pre-measured and labelled so there wasn’t much thought involved.
From beginning to end we were brewing all afternoon and well into the evening, although this could have been due to my inexperience and poor cooking equipment. We had a lot of fun and a huge sense of accomplishment at the end of the day, so I was pretty happy to pour the beery liquid into the fermenter and stick it to the back of my closet for two weeks.
After 14 days of fermentation I brought my homebrew out of hiding. It was hard to tell whether the fermentation process worked or not, but the result certainly did look and smell like beer. I found the bottling stage most stressful of all – after so much time and energy to get the beer this far, I was terrified that I was going to spill it all over the floor where it would never have the chance to be tasted.
Bottling took hardly any time at all compared to brew day. After adding in the brewers sugar it’s all about transferring the beer from the fermenter to the individual bottles. Homebrewtique really does make this as easy as they possibly can – you simply attach the bottling wand to the nozzle and turn the tap. The fact that I managed to twist the tap in the wrong direction – leading to beer spilling out from the side rather than the nozzle – is completely down to my own incompetence! I’m pleased to say that in the end I did manage to work it out and fill my 12 bottles – with beer to spare.
Again, I put the beer to the back of the closet for another two weeks, anxious to try the final result.
The final product
A full month after starting the brewing process I finally had the opportunity to taste the final product. The bottle was nicely carbonated when I popped the cork, and at the first whiff I could tell that it had worked.
Upon pouring, I noted that the beer had a dark, rich colour with good head and plenty of sediment. It looked, smelled and tasted just like a milk stout, with a lovely subtle sweetness and chocolate aromas. I was literally gobsmacked that I not only made a beer – I had made a really, really good beer. I felt a huge sense of accomplishment at having made a drinkable beer from scratch.
Apparently, this particular brew ages well, so I’m planning to store a few bottles away for six-12 months to see how the flavour deepens. You can also get creative if brewing it again by adding coffee beans, oak chips or a vanilla pod to the fermenter after seven days, or even a bit of rum before bottling.
Now that I have laboured through my first homebrew, I definitely feel confident to give it another go in the future. I can certainly say that drinking beer has never been sweeter – and that’s something to cheer about.
CAMRA has teamed up with an exciting UK company – Home Brewtique – to offer you a great way to make your own ale from scratch! Home Brewtique’s unique brewing system, top quality ingredients and step-by-step instructions make it the easiest way to make real ales yourself. The small-batch all-grain brewing experts are offering CAMRA members 15% off any of their starter brewing kits. Check out their equipment choices and 12 different recipe choices ranging from pale ales to milk stouts on www.HomeBrewtique.com
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