yes, that’s homebrew…


Sat in the kitchen, drinking a beer.  Not an uncommon occurrence for most of us,  but if I were to say that the beer that has prompted this little sesh at the keyboard was homebrew, I am sure you’d be surprised.

Homebrew, yes it’s the domain of beerdy weirdies in their garages, or folk  in their kitchens, boiling up cans of goo, adding sugar and more sugar “coz it turns to alcohol“, adding stuff and hoping to get hammered in a couple of weeks?  Then the cold, well, warm realisation that the beer that they are sampling, don’t taste like it orta.

Of course that’s homebrew, just like that stuff that your dad, uncle, brother made in the garage that made your mother irrate at the mess that they made. Eventually leading to a box full of Boots the Chemist odds and sods being sectioned to the shed to gather moulds, spores and fungus’s…

Yes, that’s homebrew…  just like the brown glass bottles that explode on a warm summers day.  BOOM, crash….. oww!

Yes, that’s homebrew…

Or is it?

Well… you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to realise the facetious nature of my introduction there, the somewhat tongue in cheek historical references to the images that words like “homebrewing, homebrew and brewing at home” can conjure up.

Mark Dredge over at the excellent Pencil and Spoon blog, has had something of an epiphany toward the idea that homebrew can actually be good, or even excellent.    Ok, perhaps epiphany was a bit strong, the lad does have a habit of writing some flouncey stuff²… but, it was great to read and a great read.

But what if I was to tell you that recently a good number of breweries have invited “homebrewers” to produce beers with them.   Produce is a lame word, I am actually talking about the “homebrewer” gets in the brewery,  creates the recipe¹, does all the labour and pretty much all the actually brewing.  Save for a few inhouse safety requirements at best, these beers are upscales of what they’d be brewing at home…   Then  these beers are served in the respective brewery outlets, testing their commercial demands and frequently garnering plaudit.  Then to cap it off, how would you, saying if you were one of the homebrewers, like your beer to be presented, judged and awarded prizes by nationally recognised and accredited judges; perhaps, even at the Great American Beer Festival?  Actually, not perhaps, they will be!   Even one of the most active brewers in the canned beer renaissance in the US, 21st Amendment, has gone to the extent of releasing what was originally a “Homebrew” recipe from Sean Paxton, called Monks Blood, and yes this is in a can!  Yes, if you live in the  US within 21A’s ever expanding distribution reach – you can open a can, brewed in very big brewery, that was originally brewed in a very small brewery! that’s awesome!   This is brewing to taste good, not to satisfy the members of a board or accountants.

There is a massive, and growing homebrew movement in the US.   Some say that it was started by Charlie Papazian?  what was happening Pre-CP?  there were laws somewhat prohibiting the act of homebrewing, so details are a litttttle sketchy.  Jimmy Carter, I believe was the one to repeal these laws, giving a toehold to create a movement that has given the US one of the most exciting craft beer scenes the world round.

But, why this article in the first place?     When I was over in Antwerp, I had an unmarked bottle shoved in my hands, “give it a week or so…”  So, I did.  I opened it earlier.   Wowweeee…. bright pale, hopppppppy, pine, citrus…. just excellent.  I nailed the bottle over cooking my dinner so much so it left me wanting a second bottle.  Hold on. I am drinking homebrew. Yes, not something that sells. Not a beer that’s garnering massive noise on the various beer sites, just some blokes efforts in the kitchen, or garage.

And, it was lovely.  We’d sell it in a heartbeat.

This isn’t the first beer that I have had this year that has left me wanting more, certainly not the first homebrew either.      Recently when  hanging out with the guys from the Brewing Network, I was overwhelmed with the offers of incredible beers from breweries local, and not so local to them.    What stopped me taking the offers of these amazing beers?  I was sat drinking Chad’s IPA, Mike Mraz’s sours and Justin’s Blonde Ale.   Not so much, when was I going to get another chance to try these?, but they were truly excellent beers.   See, these guys aren’t limited by the accountants or the other factors that can effect the commercial brewer.   There I was drinking fresh IPA that was one of the best that I have ever had, sours of a style unlike Gueuze or Lambic but so so refreshing and a simple blond ale that I dare anyone to try to brew and create a clean, fresh drinking ale with out the merest hint of faults.

How about if I were to suggest to you that there was a competition for any homebrewer to enter, that should you win, your beer would appear on the shelf of every bottle store in the US?   Cool huh!   Well that’s the Long Shot Competition.   Yes, a brewing concern the size of Sam Adams, headed by the exceptional Jim Koch, organises and delivers with pomp and style something that’s a real tribute to the homebrew scene.    I say pomp and style, this isn’t treated as a lame PR event, this is a major investment, and reflection of the community spirit that the brewing/beer scene that beer has.

Phil, Joe (the brewer of beer that caused this post) and I are fans of the Brewing Network, we’re just guys who mess around in our garages.  What if I were to say, I had a long conversation with a couple of the most respected brewers in the UK, only a couple of weeks ago, and one was raving to the other about the knowledge and information that was on that site and on their show. Enough of the Brewing Network, I would even go as far to say that perhaps some of the most interesting beers that I have tried this year have been “homebrewed”.

Homebrewing has come a long way baby.  It’s not the preserve of a few strange individuals highlighted in the head of this, it’s fast becoming a “cool” thing to do.  As much as cooking shows have changed the face of food, cooking and even the supermarket shelves – homebrewing has already impacted on the brewing scene in the US, Denmark and certainly Italy. I suppose if you have the passion to brew, build your own kit and take time to learn about ingredients and beer styles in your own time – that’s showing time, effort and commitment, all key attributes to future brewers.

It’s about time it did in the UK !

If you’re looking for resources, where to go, where to buy we have good homebrew stores, (albeit at the other end of the sodding country from me) in the Hop and Grape and the Barley Bottom – you can even import from amazing stores such as Brouwland, Morebeer and Northern Brewer.   You can ask questions here at Jims Homebrew Kit forum.      There are resources!   Download a copy of Brewmath, ProMash, or the like.  There are even free books on the web to read!  Jon Palmer, Jamil and Charlie Papazian all write well to help you find your feet.

I challenge a regional brewery – perhaps Shepherd Neame would be good, they have a small brewery as well as the big ones, to try something like this/  Be brave.  Try the scene here… inject some life into it. Earn some love!   I take my hat off to Kelly at Thornbridge, Eddie at Ramsgate for bringing people in with homebrewing experience.    Jeff at Lovibonds again is another ex-homebrewer, who’s really getting some noise out there for the quality of his beer.

Kelly was relating the story of being in Burton when they had a local homebrewers meet, actually the Jaipur clone attempt.   The winner has since gone on to be at a brewery somewhere!

What am I actually getting at here?  Being a brewer? Brewing at home?  I really don’t know, but, so much to say that I really have learnt to appreciate beer on a very different level having spent time brewing.    I would recommend it to anyone, certainly your friends will love you for it!  Especially when you can turn around and say, “I brewed that…”

¹ – often the winning beer in a local/regional homebrew competition. ² Mark, I was joking…

8 thoughts on “yes, that’s homebrew…

  1. Great post!! I’ve been into homebrew from kits for a while just putting final plans in place for all grain brewing and can’t wait, might have to shave the beard off though ;o)

  2. Well, I’m glad I helped Mark have his Road to Damascus moment regarding home brew 😀 Home brewing seem to be thriving in the UK, and also in Ireland (I co-founded and then left the country :)) and having attended many tasting sessions with members of ICB, I can safely say that you’re gonna get some nice beers, and some really amazing ones, because by brewing at home you can experiment like hell. Sometimes it doesn’t work of course, but that’s all part of a fun learning experience.

    One test I have with my own brews is asking people if they would buy it (not that I try to sell it of course!). If several said yes, then surely the kind of competition you suggest would work. However, when I think of homebrew competitions, I think of the US and BJCP Certification and a myriad of syle guidelines and all that… stuff.

    Oh, and don’t forget the many US micro brewers who started as home brewers; the likes of New Belgium, where Fat Tyre was initially a home brew recipe.

    Did Joe Stange make that beer you had? I didn’t realise he was brewing now.

  3. “I really have learnt to appreciate beer on a very different level having spent time brewing. I would recommend it to anyone, certainly your friends will love you for it!”

    Absolutely! For myself and many other people who brew at home in the UK, modern all-grain brewing is a far remove from opening cans of goo and Tate& Lyle in messy kitchen (although that’s certainly fun too, and where we all start).

    Brewdays are the coalface, and are exciting and fun, but it’s more involved than that, and a far more outgoing and diverse hobby than many would have credited it with in past years. Formulating recipes might involve software and must involve socialising and sampling commercial brews in pubs and at festivals. Sourcing and understanding grain might mean talking to microbreweries, farmers and malsters. Getting hold of hops economically can involve making contacts all over the world, but for many of us also means planting, growing and nurturing our own backyard hops, sowing guerilla rhyzomes on wasteland, or cycling the hedgerows. And of course it usually all ends up with groups of friends standing together with pints glasses of beer the brewer can have genuine pride in.

    The UK homebrew community is alive and well, in forums and on blogs of course, but also in pubs, in sheds, in garages, gardens and living rooms, across the country.

    Thanks for an enjoyable article – check our own particular beery mess sometime at The Boxshed Brewery – just another UK shed full of buckets and pipes!

  4. Get in there! Homebrewed beer is a point now where it has never been before. It is so easy to produce a drinkable and commendable, beer for next to no money and with only a little skill.

    There are even different entry points now for the novice intermediate and the advanced brewers. Kit, extract and Full mash homebrew are all now well documented and there is a huge community who are all too willing to help you and even send you a bottle or two of their own homebrew.

    Home brewing is an art and a joy to do, get a friend involved and have a beer while you do it too.

  5. Pingback: homebrewers, want to brew on a pro-system? « Beerblog

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