Like when we were teenagers, we went miles on our bikes, in our normal clothes with no more than a pair of bicycle clips and a cagoule, maybe a sandwich in our pockets if we planned to go a long way. These days to go cycling you need to have several hundred pounds worth of lurid lycra and at least a thousand pounds worth of cycle or everyone looks down their nose at you. This applies even more so if you are middle aged; I can say that because I am.
Home brewing is just the same. Gone are the days when you went to Boots and bought a kit, opened the can, mixed it up and left it to ferment in a plastic bucket. In my student days we developed production into a fine art, shouldn’t have been difficult as we were all biology undergraduates. The process went something like; one bucket fermenting, one pressure cask conditioning and one drinking. The rules were strictly no helping yourself, consumption only allowed when everyone was present and maximum three pints each per session. You tended to lose visionary capability if you exceeded three pints and were unable to progress to public drinking. Obviously, reducing the cost of a night out was the main aim. The taste was secondary and to be honest it always had a strong yeasty smack.
A mate of mine has been home brewing for years. Recently he’s started up his own microbrewery Quirky Ales and I was privileged to be asked to go and give him a hand one day. Now I don’t want to teach anyone to suck eggs. We all know about brewing and how it works don’t we. I thought I did but after a day with Mike Quirk I found that I learned so much and how much more there is to learn.
Essentially it’s all pretty simple, throw some malt in, stew it at a constant temperature for a bit, strain the wort off, boil it up and sling some hops in; some at the start and a few more at the end. You then pump it into a big tank and it ferments away, then you bottle it or put it in a cask, simples! It’s not though is it. Like how do you work out what to put in? Where do you get the recipe? What’s the original recipe? Who made it? Mike explained to me that there are loads of recipes out there that you could use as a start and quite a few soft ware programmes that can be used to formulate recipes and make accurate predictions when experimenting with variations; Brewers friend & Brew mate are two.
Quirky have a 200L German Speidel brew kit in their new brewery in Garforth, Leeds and when I got there the contraption was bubbling away nicely. Now I don’t know about you but it’s the aromas of brewing that captivates me, particularly the boil. It arouses a sort of olfactory memory bank. As soon as Mike put the hops in I was instantly a young lad getting off the bus with my Grandma on Snig Hill, Sheffs, smelling the hops emanating from Lady’s Bridge brewery, I think it would be Whitbread in the early seventies: Reaching Sam and John Smith’s bottle neck at Tadcaster, on the long road from S.Yorks to the Yorkshire coast, ‘Are we there yet Dad’: Pulling up in the yard of The Cannon brewery in the van with me Dad when he’d not ordered enough Stones and we had to fetch some more: A student detecting Higsons brewery in the early eighties: Starting a career in Leeds with the smell of Tetley’s ever present in the background: Later moving out into the country, near Tad (again) and the waft on the breeze when the wind’s blowing the opposite way. You start to realise it’s part of you, part of your life. I didn’t realise just how much though.
When I think about it, it’s definitely the hops that does it for me. We all know about hops don’t we? I thought I did but I was surprised how much I learned just from smelling the different varieties, which instantly identified different ales to me as I sniffed them. To be honest, I was like a kid in a sweet shop, opening up packets and bales of hops and just inhaling. I think I’m addicted to humulones, seriously! Everyone thinks people drink beer to get pissed (maybe?). I reckon I could do without alcohol, just give me a pocket potpourri of hops to sniff instead, I’d be perfectly happy.
Mike still uses an old 50L kit for experimental brews and he’s promised to let me have an go on it, under his strict supervision of course. Now this sounds really good fun. What can I do, where do I start? I’m not bothered, it’s just the smell I’m after.
I’d like to give a big thanks to Mike Quirk for the experience and here’s a few photos to give a sequential flavour; malt, hops, the process (look who had to do the winding up bit!) and the final product. Can you smell it?
You never know, if you’re drinking a pint of Quirky Ales Long Hop in a few weeks time, it might just have been the one I helped brew? If you see them OTB then give them a try, they’re pretty tasty ales.