Words & Photos - Matthew Curtis
My Dad's homebrew created with an iBrew kit.
There surely comes a point in every beer fanatics life when he decides he wants to try his hand at home brewing and I'm certainly at that point myself. How many of the excellent craft breweries that have sprung up over the last couple of years started life as hobbyists before realising that they were on to something and turned pro? How many highly skilled home brewers are yet to take the plunge, ask the bank for some money and have a crack at commercial brewing themselves? If you like beer as much as I do then you must be as excited as I am about what the new breweries that will surely open this year will bring to the table.
Over Christmas my Dad gave me a bottle of his own home brew which was brewed using a kit called iBrew along with a Munton's Gold IPA starter kit. He didn't follow the kit's instructions exactly as the resulting beer wouldn't have been to his tastes and so he bought some additional whole leaf hops and dry hopped it to add further flavour and aroma to his brew. I really enjoyed the resulting golden brown ESB style beer that was the end result, it wasn't quite the IPA my Dad had originally intended to brew but it was only his second attempt at the style and the beer was still highly quaffable.
This got me thinking about trying the same thing and so once I've done a bit more research (I'm currently reading Charlie Papizian's excellent 'The New Complete Joy of Home Brewing') I plan to get hold of my own iBrew plus some aromatic hops and have a go myself. I've always been concerned about the lack of space in my relatively small North London flat but the beauty of these kits is that they take up very little space indeed.
My friend Greg, who started brewing on kits himself, now like many of the people I follow on twitter has switched to full on all-grain brewing. The way he enthuses over his brewing does well do demonstrate how addictive creating your own beers can be. I recently paid him a visit to check out one of his latest creations, a Black IPA that had been dry hopped with a metric shit-ton of Fuggles because that's simply what he had lying around. I was also excited to try out his home made kegerator, a refrigerator which he has converted to house two kegs and dispense under CO2 through taps he has attached to the front. Fresh, cool, keg beer in your own kitchen, Greg is how you say, living the dream.
What first impressed me about Greg's beer is the excellent condition it was in, the flavours were big but still well balanced, it had a lovely, creamy mouth feel and it was perfectly carbonated. The malt flavours were robust and initially dominated the flavour, plenty of black treacle and licorice was present but then that fresh, grassy flavour that is the hallmark of Fuggles came through... I know what a lot of you reading this might be thinking (EURGH, TWIGS!) but actually it worked really well and gradually flavours of redcurrant and blackberry came to the fore. Greg and I noticed something else though, a distinctly higher amount of warming alcohol in the finish than Greg had anticipated. Upon closer inspection some of the beer had frozen solid in the keg, naturally water freezes and alcohol doesn't so the beer was a lot stonger than it should have been. Despite accidentally freeze distilling his brew the beer didn't suffer for it and I left his house with a bulging bag full of bottles to take home. I look forward to trying some more of Greg's beers later this year and you can also follow Greg on twitter here; @MadeByGregCox (he also makes excellent hand made furniture for a living if you are in the market for some shelves or a coffee table.)
During the CAMRGB twissup last month many participants brought some bottles of their homebrew for people to try out and the bars were happy to hand out glasses so that these beers could be passed around for everyone to try. I was locked in an inebriated haze and standing in the crowded basement of Brewdog Camden when I was handed a glass of Andy Parker's (better known by many as @Tabamatu) pomegranate Saison. I'll be perfectly honest here, if no one had told me that it was homebrew then I would have assumed it was one of the pricey bottles in the Brewdog fridges that I often lust after. The tart, refreshing qualities of the Pomegranate were underpinned by rich Belgian yeast esters, it was beautifully balanced and in superb condition, I would have happily paid top dollar for this beer.
On that night Andy gifted me with a bottle of one of his latest brews, an imperial stout which had been aged on dark roasted coffee beans and french oak chips soaked in Makers Mark Bourbon and THEN infused with cocoa, needless to say I couldn't wait to get into this bottle! Andy had warned me that the beer might have been overly lively and to open it near a sink but thankfully the bottle was opened and poured without incident. The beer was lively and produced a large, tight cafe latte hued head which hung around despite its high ABV. The nose was rich with coffee and chocolate, you could really smell those coffee beans but as a coffee lover this only raised my anticipations. It tasted divine, the cocoa seemed to mellow out the intense coffee hit and just a hint of oak and bourbon was present so it didn't overpower the brew. It was an incredibly accomplished beer, it even made me recall the excellent Kopikat by Summer Wine Brewing, it's easy to see when tasting a beer like this why people have the confidence to pack in the day job and take out a tenancy on an empty warehouse before filling it with mash tuns, kettles and fermentation vats.
I look forward to tasting more excellent home brew this year, in fact if you'd like to send me some I will happily send out some beer in exchange and who knows, if I can get my act together maybe I'll be sending out my own home brew in a couple of months time.